POLITICS

Michael Avenatti Indicted In New York Over Allegedly Defrauding Stormy Daniels

The attorney allegedly attempted to defraud his client by convincing Daniels' literary agent to divert money from her book deal into his bank account.

Michael Avenatti was indicted Wednesday in New York on charges of fraud and identity theft related to about $300,000 in book payments for porn star Stormy Daniels while she was his client.

Avenatti was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft in the indictment, according to the Southern District of New York.

From August 2018 to February 2019, Avenatti allegedly defrauded Daniels on her book contract by convincing her literary agent to divert money owed to her to an account he controlled and then using the money for his own purpose, according to the fraud indictment.

Prosecutors say Avenatti managed to do this by sending the literary agent a fraudulent and unauthorized letter that had Daniels’ signature. Daniels allegedly never signed the letter and was not aware it existed.

In the second of four payment installments for Daniels’ book advance, the literary agent reportedly wired $148,750 into the account Avenatti controlled. Prosecutors said he spent the money on personal flights, hotels, car services and restaurants, as well as for insurance and on payroll for his law firm and a second business he owned. 

When Daniels asked her attorney why she hadn’t received the installment, Avenatti allegedly told her he was still trying to get the payment from her publisher. Prosecutors said Avenatti used funds from another source to pay Daniels $148,750 about a month later so she wouldn’t know he used her money.

The literary agent reportedly sent another payment of the same amount to the bank account. According to the indictment, Avenatti used that money to pay people he had a personal relationship with, to make a monthly luxury car payment, and to pay for things like hotels and restaurants.  

Avenatti allegedly told Daniels that her publisher was refusing to make that payment, according to federal prosecutors.

As alleged, [Avenatti] blatantly lied to and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman

“Michael Avenatti abused and violated the core duty of an attorney ― the duty to his client,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Wednesday in a statement.

“As alleged, he used his position of trust to steal an advance on the client’s book deal,” Berman said. “As alleged, he blatantly lied to and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari. Far from zealously representing his client, Avenatti, as alleged, instead engaged in outright deception and theft, victimizing rather than advocating for his client.”

A spokesperson for Daniels did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Avenatti was also indicted Wednesday on previously announced charges related to a scheme in which he allegedly tried to extort millions of dollars from Nike. He was charged with conspiracy to transmit interstate communications with intent to extort, conspiracy to commit extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, and extortion.

The sweeping extortion charges stem from claims that Avenatti, 48, attempted to leverage damaging information about Nike into a multimillion-dollar windfall for himself, saying the company could get off the hook for up to $25 million. Avenatti threatened to go public with his allegations, baiting Nike on Twitter and telling its lawyers that his revelations could shave billions off the company’s value.

“If [Nike] wants to have one confidential settlement and we’re done, they can buy that for 22-and-a-half million dollars and we’re done. … Full confidentiality, we ride off into the sunset,” Avenatti said, according to the complaint.

Avenatti said Tuesday on his private Twitter account that he expected an indictment to come down this week, but that he would fight the claims.

“I intend on fighting these bogus/legally baseless allegations, and will plead not guilty to ALL CHARGES,” the attorney wrote. “I look forward to the trial where I can begin to clear my name.”

Federal law enforcement officials arrested Avenatti in March over two separate cases stemming from charges in California in New York. He was indicted on 36 counts in California last month, including multiple charges of wire fraud, tax fraud, bank fraud and bankruptcy fraud. He pleaded not guilty to those crimes, and his trial is set to begin on June 25.

The attorney became a household name representing Daniels in various cases against President Donald Trump, at times teasing political bids of his own.

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