Michael Avenatti charged in 36-count federal indictment

Geraldine Edwards
April 12, 2019

The indictment came about three weeks after Avenatti, best known for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her legal battles with U.S. President Donald Trump, was arrested in NY on two separate criminal complaints filed by federal prosecutors in NY and California.

Federal prosecutors are set to file new criminal charges against Michael Avenatti in California, marking yet another legal blow for the embattled attorney.

In a case involving one client, Avenatti allegedly funneled a $2.75 million settlement into his bank accounts and spent $2.5 million on a private airplane, the indictment said.

One of the clients, Geoffrey Ernest Johnson, was a mentally ill paraplegic on disability who won a $4-million settlement of a suit against Los Angeles County.

If convicted of the 36 counts, Hanna said Avenatti faces a maximum sentence of 333 years in prison, plus another two-year mandatory consecutive sentence for aggravated identity theft.

According to court documents, prosecutors said Avenatti would occasionally send Client 1 "advance" payments that didn't exceed $1,900.

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The lawyer is also accused of embezzling millions of dollars from other clients, using the money to purchase a private jet, finance his coffee business and pay for his own legal and personal expenses.

"Money generated from one set of crimes was used to further other crimes", U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna told reporters.

The indictment also claims Avenatti did not pay taxes and lied during bankruptcy proceedings. "I am entitled to a FULL presumption of innocence and am confident that justice will be done once ALL of the facts are known", he wrote.

Avenatti tweeted Thursday that he intends to fight all of the charges and says he looks forward to the truth being known, as opposed to what he characterizes as a "one-sided version".

The court ordered federal agents to seize Avenatti's jet at Santa Barbara Airport on Wednesday.

When the IRS later put tax levies on coffee company bank accounts to collect more than $5 million, Avenatti had Tully's employees deposit cash receipts in a little-known account for his auto racing team, authorities said. One of his businesses, Global Baristas US LLC, failed to file employment tax returns and didn't pay $3.2 million in federal payroll taxes, which had been withheld from employee paychecks.

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Avenatti had denied the accusations in a series of posts on social media on April 11.

Until last month, Avenatti had only provided $124,000 to Johnson, the indictment said.

Avenatti also allegedly submitted false information to financial institutions for several loans, including a 2011 tax return noting his adjusted gross income for that calendar year of approximately $4.6 million.

In fact, the indictment says, Avenatti "well knew" that the firm had received almost $1.4 million on May 17, 2017.

Avenatti's tweet Thursday included a "client testimonial" bearing a signature purportedly from Johnson that said Avenatti is "an exceptional, honest and ethical attorney and I feel fortunate to have had him represent me".

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