A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti on 36 counts, including embezzlement, wire fraud, tax evasion and bank fraud connected to his alleged theft of tens of millions of dollars.
Beginning in 2015, Avenatti executed a scheme to defraud five clients, according to the indictment, one of whom was a paraplegic from whom Avenatti withheld a settlement payment of $4 million.
After Avenatti negotiated settlements for the clients that required payment to go to them, he would lie to the clients about the terms of the settlements, instead depositing the funds to attorney trust accounts he controlled, the indictment says. He would then embezzle and misappropriate those funds. To prevent discovery of his scheme, he told clients the settlement proceeds hadn’t yet been paid, among other tactics.
In the case of the paraplegic client, for example, Avenatti, after having pocketed the client’s $4 million settlement, directed a small portion of what the client was owed, $124,000, to be paid to the client and made some payments to assisted living facilities to cover the client’s rent. But Avenatti denied to the client that the total settlement had already been paid.
As a result, that client was unable to purchase a house he sought. The client was also denied social security benefits when Avenatti failed to respond to the administration on the client’s behalf, fearing that disclosure of information the administration sought would expose Avenatti’s scheme.
Thursday’s indictment from a grand jury comes two weeks after federal prosecutors in Manhattan and Los Angeles charged Avenatti, who became a household name during his representation of adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, nearly simultaneously in two criminal cases, unsealing complaints that alleged he attempted to extort more than $20 million from sportswear company Nike and that he committed wire and bank fraud.
Daniels’s alleged affair in 2006 with President Donald Trump led in part to criminal charges against Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen. Cohen pleaded guilty and is set to report to prison next month, and Avenatti and Daniels have parted ways. Trump has denied the affair.
On Thursday, Avenatti tweeted after the indictment was announced: “For 20 years, I have represented Davids vs. Goliaths and relied on due process and our system of justice. Along the way, I have made many powerful enemies. I am entitled to a FULL presumption of innocence and am confident that justice will be done once ALL of the facts are known.”
A news conference concerning the indictment in Los Angeles is scheduled for Thursday with federal prosecutors and Internal Revenue Service officials.