Stormy Daniels' lawyer accused of stealing millions
The high-profile former lawyer for Stormy Daniels, the porn star, has been charged with stealing millions of dollars from his clients "to fund a lavish lifestyle that had no limits".
Michael Avenatti (48) was charged in California with 36 counts of theft, tax avoidance, bank fraud and lying in bankruptcy proceedings.
One of his alleged victims was Geoffrey Johnson, a paraplegic man who won a $4m (€3.5m) settlement four years ago, which he has yet largely to receive.
Mr Avenatti is accused of keeping most of the cash and telling his client the court had not yet paid out.
The man's attempts to buy a house were thwarted by Mr Avenatti and the man was cut off from his social security benefits two months ago as a result of the case.
Until last month, Mr Avenatti had only provided $124,000 over 69 payments to Mr Johnson, the indictment said.
Another alleged victim received a $3m settlement, only for Mr Avenatti to take $2.5m of it and buy a private jet. That jet was seized by police on Wednesday.
The charges are separate to his arrest last month in New York for allegedly trying to blackmail Nike for up to $25m. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges. Although Mr Avenatti was due a portion of settlement funds for his work, the charges said he paid only a fraction of the money clients were due in some cases and strung them along as they waited to be paid.
Nicola Hanna, attorney for the central district of California, said at a press conference yesterday that Mr Avenatti, if convicted, faces a 335-year jail term.
"Holding your client's money in trust is one of your highest duties. You do not steal your client's money," he said.
He alleged that Mr Avenatti would steal from his clients to cover up costs from his coffee business, car racing interests, bankruptcy proceedings and loan repayments.
"Money generated from one set of crimes was used to sustain another set of crimes, usually by obtaining settlements with the intent of stringing along claimants," said Mr Hanna.
Mr Avenatti, best known for representing Ms Daniels in lawsuits against US President Donald Trump, said on Twitter yesterday that he will plead not guilty to the California charges. "I look forward to the entire truth being known as opposed to a one-sided version meant to sideline me."