Dan Bilzerian is no stranger to the spotlight.
The professional poker player has had small roles in a handful of movies, including Lone Survivor and The Other Woman. Dubbed as “The King of Instagram” because of his 5.8 million followers, he posts pictures that depict an international playboy lifestyle – private jets, high-stakes poker, yachts and scantily clad women. With a reported net worth of more than $100 million, his celebrity friends include Miley Cyrus and Wiz Khalifa.
But recently, Bilzerian has gotten the wrong type of publicity – attention that the 34-year-old doesn’t want.
On Dec. 10, he was sued by Miami-based model Vanessa Castano, who claimed that he kicked her in the face at a trendy South Beach club. “Bilzarian was on an elevated dancing platform,” the lawsuit reads, “and violently and intentionally kicked plaintiff in the face while wearing what resembled military boots.” The lawsuit seeks actual and punitive damages.
Two days later, legal problems struck again when Bilzerian was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on a Las Vegas warrant accusing him of possessing bomb-making components and an explosive incendiary device.
Now out on his own recognizance, Bilzerian is scheduled to appear in court next month on two felony counts. If convicted, he could face up to six years in prison.
Speaking out for the first time since the charges, Bilzerian tells PEOPLE that “trashy gossip websites that don’t fact check” have intentionally spread misinformation about him – but that he’s innocent of any wrongdoing. “The allegations being made about me are absolutely false,” he says. “I look forward to shedding light on what happened through proper channels.”
Bilzerian’s friends are struggling to reconcile the man they know with the allegations against him. “He has never condoned any sort of violence towards women,” a friend tells PEOPLE. “That’s just not what he’s about. Sure, he has sexual relationships with women, but he is all about respecting women. The entire thing seems very, very suspect. I think that because of Dan’s public lifestyle, he’s a target for this type of thing.” (Neither Castano nor her attorney returned multiple calls, emails or texts for comment.)
To navigate through the legal proceedings, Bilzerian has hired high-profile attorney Jose Baez – best known as the attorney for Casey Anthony. And although his Instagram feed is full of party pictures, friends say he is “distressed” by the charges. “This is so out of character for him,” says his friend. “He just wants to put it behind him.”
Other friends reached by PEOPLE tell stories about Bilzerian’s philanthropy. “He reached out to me because I adopt special-needs children,” says friend Brian Hammond, whose son is battling leukemia. “He has given us money, has spent time talking to us. At heart, he’s a really good guy. ”
Bilzerian’s next step? Remaining mum about everything – a rarity for someone who shares his life all over social media. Citing the nature of the proceedings against him, Bilzerian tells PEOPLE that he has to remain silent – for now. “I’ll have nothing else to say about the matter,” he says, “until it’s complete.”