Federal prosecutors in New York unsealed new charges Wednesday against Michael Avenatti, accusing the prominent lawyer of defrauding his most famous former client, adult-film star Stormy Daniels, in connection with her book deal.
Two indictments were unsealed against Avenatti.
One accuses him of aggravated identity theft and wire fraud in the Daniels case. Though she is not named in the document, people familiar with the matter identified her as the alleged victim. He is charged with diverting some of the book’s proceeds and spending it on his personal and business expenses.
The other indictment formally charges Avenatti with attempting to extort the athletic apparel company Nike in a separate case connected to his arrest in March.
“Michael Avenatti abused and violated the core duty of an attorney — the duty to his client,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. “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.”
According to the book money indictment, Avenatti “stole approximately $300,000” from Daniels and has only repaid about half that money.
Avenatti, who has already been accused in California of stealing millions of dollars from his clients, has denied any wrongdoing.
After the indictment was unsealed Wednesday, Avenatti tweeted: “I will be fully exonerated once the relevant emails, contracts, text messages, and documents are presented . . . No monies relating to Ms. Daniels were ever misappropriated or mishandled. She received millions of dollars worth of legal services and we spent huge sums in expenses.”
Avenatti rose to national prominence as an attorney for Daniels, who has said she had a sexual encounter with President Trump years ago and was paid during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep silent about her claims.
Avenatti, 48, no longer represents Daniels, but he parlayed their association into frequent cable news appearances and flirted with running for president. He also wrote the foreword for her book, “Full Disclosure,” which was published in October.
He was arrested in New York in March by FBI agents on charges he had threatened to reveal damaging allegations against Nike if they did not pay him millions.
Separately, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have filed a 36-count indictment against Avenatti, alleging he swindled clients and sought to cover up financial chicanery in other schemes.
That indictment charges Avenatti “would misrepresent, conceal, and falsely describe to the client” the details of their settlement and its funds, routing the money instead into accounts he controlled. He would use the money for himself and lie to clients about whether the settlements were being paid or delayed, the indictment stated.
In one instance, Avenatti allegedly redirected $2.5 million intended for one of his clients to buy a private airplane for his company. Federal officials have since seized the jet.
Avenatti has denied wrongdoing in these cases as well.
Avenatti rose to prominence a year ago when he began representing Daniels in a lawsuit seeking to void her 2016 nondisclosure agreement with Trump over an affair she claims they had 10 years earlier. Trump denies her allegations.
As Daniels’s lawyer, Avenatti publicly taunted the president and his lawyers, winning fans among liberals and critics among fellow lawyers.
He defended his approach as “aggressive, but I also think we’ve been strategic and thoughtful, and without that approach, we wouldn’t be where we are now. We’ve created a situation where the other side continues to make mistake after mistake.”
Based in Newport Beach, Calif., Avenatti was previously known for his success in a handful of large class-action lawsuits, financial disputes with partners at his former law firm and allegedly dubious business practices involving his onetime ownership stake in Tully’s, a now-defunct Seattle-based coffee chain.