October 22, 2019

Michael Avenatti Is Charged With Stealing Nearly $300,000 From Stormy Daniels

Michael Avenatti Is Charged With Stealing Nearly $300,000 From Stormy Daniels

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged the celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti with misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars belonging to the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels, his former client.

The indictment, announced by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, adds to the legal troubles of Mr. Avenatti, who stands accused of more than three dozen crimes. He denied all of the charges on Wednesday and said he would continue to fight them.

According to prosecutors, Mr. Avenatti took more than $295,000 from Ms. Daniels. After helping her secure a book contract, they said, he sent “a fraudulent and unauthorized letter” bearing Ms. Daniels’s signature to her literary agent, instructing the agent to wire a portion of the book advance to a client trust account that Mr. Avenatti controlled.

Ms. Daniels, the indictment said, “had not signed or authorized the letter, and did not even know of its existence.” Mr. Avenatti is accused of putting the money toward his own personal expenses, including plane tickets, hotel stays, meal delivery, dry cleaning and a luxury car lease.

Mr. Avenatti began representing Ms. Daniels in early 2018, when he filed lawsuits against President Trump and Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer and fixer. Mr. Avenatti sought to release Ms. Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, from a hush agreement she signed leading up to the 2016 presidential election. As part of that agreement, she accepted $130,000 and agreed to keep quiet about a sexual relationship she said she had had with Mr. Trump in 2006.

Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance crimes related to the payment. This month, he began serving a three-year prison sentence.

According to a statement by Ms. Daniels in March, she stopped working with Mr. Avenatti early this year. She could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.

“I intend on fighting these bogus/legally baseless allegations, and will plead not guilty to ALL CHARGES,” Mr. Avenatti wrote on Twitter, just before prosecutors announced the latest counts. “I look forward to the trial where I can begin to clear my name.”

Mr. Avenatti was arrested in New York in March on extortion charges, accused of seeking millions from Nike in exchange for what he described as evidence of misconduct by company employees in the recruitment of college basketball players.

In a separate indictment filed in California this spring, Mr. Avenatti was accused of stealing millions of dollars from five other clients, and of lying repeatedly about his business and income to an agent of the Internal Revenue Service, creditors, a bankruptcy court and a bankruptcy trustee.

Mr. Avenatti, who spent much of 2018 crusading against Mr. Trump on cable news shows and teasing a presidential run of his own, has called the case against him politically motivated.

But federal prosecutors in California said that their indictment of Mr. Avenatti had grown out of a criminal investigation initiated in September 2016, months before the election that would catapult both him and his future client, Ms. Daniels, into the political arena.

If convicted on all charges, Mr. Avenatti could face more than 300 years in prison.

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