Attorney Michael Avenatti says that he plans to plead not guilty to a raft of felony charges including embezzlement and fraud when he appears in California district court. The 48-year-old litigator is accused of using millions of dollars that should have gone to his clients to fund his lavish lifestyle. Avenatti faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars if he is convicted on all of the charges against him.
Avenatti’s Twitter feed attracted hundreds of thousands of new followers in March 2018 when he announced that he had filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump on behalf of the adult film star Stormy Daniels. The controversial lawyer turned to the social media platform once again in April to profess his innocence and demand his day in court. Daniels has since fired Avenatti and hired another attorney.
Federal prosecutors in New York and California have obtained multiple-count indictments against Avenatti. In New York, he is accused of threatening to use social media to ruin the reputation of Nike unless the sportswear manufacturer paid him millions of dollars to perform unneeded and unwanted legal work. In California, he is alleged to have bilked millions from his clients, including $4 million that should have gone to a mentally ill paraplegic man. Prosecutors claim that Avenatti used the money to lease exotic cars and purchase a private jet.
Federal cases involving high-profile individuals tend to attract a great deal of media attention, and U.S. attorneys generally wait until they have compelling evidence before pursuing embezzlement or fraud indictments against politicians or celebrities. The vast majority of such cases are settled by plea agreements, and criminal defense attorneys in these situations may suggest that defendants keep their discussions confidential and avoid social media.
Source: CNBC, Celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti says he will plead not guilty to federal fraud charges in California, Kevin Breuninger, April 29, 2019