Former ‘Shark Tank’ contestant sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to fraud and sexual battery

Nate Holzapfel in Provo, Utah
Salesman Nate Holzapfel appears in an episode of “Beyond the Tank” in Provo, Utah, to discuss a business he pitched about a belt with no holes.
(Fred Hayes / Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)
Share via

Nate Holzapfel, a former contestant on the reality TV show “Shark Tank,” was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for multiple counts of fraud and sexual battery.

Utah Fourth District Judge Thomas Low rejected a probation recommendation for Holzapfel, 44, overturning a plea agreement his attorneys negotiated with prosecutors.

In June, Holzapfel, pleaded guilty to three counts of communications fraud, a second-degree felony and three counts sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor, according to the agreement filed with the court on Friday.


The charges against Holzapfel — which were unrelated to his activities on “Shark Tank” — stemmed from eight different criminal cases involving multiple women between 2018 and 2021. According to the Utah prosecutors’ charging documents, the married Holzapfel struck up romantic relationships with “vulnerable” women he met on dating apps, then persuaded them to turn over their money and assets.

The deal was intended to spare Holzapfel prison time, instead he would serve 48 months of supervised probation, and required that he pay $300,000 in restitution to his fraud victims. In exchange, prosecutors would dismiss 17 other charges against Holzapfel.

Bubba’s Q Boneless Baby Back Ribs was promoted as one of the biggest success stories from reality TV show “Shark Tank.” But the story gets sticky.

May 19, 2023

According to the plea statement, Holzapfel could withdraw his guilty plea if the judge did not follow the terms agreed upon by the attorneys. However, Judge Low denied Holzapfel’s request to withdraw his guilty pleas, saying it contradicted Utah law.

“The treachery and abuse that has occurred also occurred over a long period of time,” said the judge during sentencing.

An attorney representing Holzapfel declined to comment.

He originally faced 15 felony and five misdemeanor criminal charges that were filed in 2021 and 2022 including communications fraud, theft and forcible sexual abuse, according to the Utah County attorney’s office in Provo.

In 2013 Holzapfel earned a measure of fame when he appeared on the fourth season of ABC’s long-running “Shark Tank,” where he pitched his Mission Belts Co., calling it “a belt with no holes, that always fit.”


Celebrity investor Daymond John agreed to invest $50,000 for a 37%.5 stake in the company, which reportedly sold $180,000 worth of belts the night Holzapfel’s episode aired.

Mission Belts and Holzapfel were frequently cited publicly as “Shark Tank” success stories. According to the company, Holzapfel is no longer associated with Mission Belts and hasn’t been involved with the company for nine years.

Holzapfel became John’s protégé, working with him on other “Shark Tank”-related ventures. Soon, he was offering his expertise to entrepreneurs through a series of of coaching, training, videos and books under his website Nate State of Mind.

It was in this capacity that Holzapfel began working with former “Shark Tank” contestants Al “Bubba” Baker and his daughter Brittani Baker, after John brought him in to set up their e-commerce platform.

The Bakers alleged that after they appeared on the reality show ‘s fifth season in 2013, John who invested in their boneless baby back rib venture and introduced them to Holzapfel, calling him an “internet genius.”

However, the Bakers alleged their time working with Holzapfel was beset by problems detailed in a Times investigation.


They claim they had to refund to customers nearly 14% of the amount of the initial online orders because Holzapfel failed to install a feature to collect sales tax on certain products.

Further, they contend that Holzapfel controlled their business bank account and ignored their requests for financial information.

When the Bakers cut ties with Holzapfel, they said that he closed out the business account they believed had $100,000 on deposit and sent them a check for $8,000.

Holzapfel’s attorney previously told The Times that his client “does not have any comment on this matter.”

John earlier told The Times that he didn’t recall describing Holzapfel as an “internet genius” and he had not had “any relationship” with Holzapfel in years.

“He ended up showing a pattern of bad habits and he was not a fit for how we do business,” John said, adding that he only became aware of Holzapfel’s legal predicament “after we ended our relationship with him.”


The charges that Holzapfel was sentenced for last week were unrelated to his business relationship with John or the Bakers.

Holzapfel’s legal troubles are not limited to his recent spate of Utah criminal charges.

In 2019 Larry King Enterprises had won a default judgment for $250,000 against Holzapfel in a U.S. District Court in California.

That case arose out of a mock interview King recorded with Holzapfel in 2013, “as a favor to a family member,” to be used in a “sizzle reel” to be shown to TV producers that Holzapfel hoped might hire him, according to the complaint.

Instead, Holzapfel obtained King’s participation “under false pretenses,” and used the interview, making it appear that King “endorsed Defendants’ commercial activities when, in fact, he has not done so.”