Michael Avenatti convicted of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in Stormy Daniels case and faces up to 22 years in prison
Michael Avenatti was convicted of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
He faces up to 22 years in prison.
Avenatti was accused of stealing $300,000 from Stormy Daniels while representing her.
A jury on Friday convicted Michael Avenatti of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft following a widely watched trial. The former lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels now faces up to 22 years in prison and was ordered to surrender by Monday at 5 p.m. PT.
Avenatti was accused, among other things, of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Daniels while he represented her. The actress said then-candidate Donald Trump paid her $130,000 during the 2016 presidential election to stay silent about her past sexual relationship with him.
During opening arguments, federal prosecutors said Avenatti pocketed $300,000 out of Daniels' $800,000 book advance by forging her signature on a letter to the book's publisher. Assistant US attorney Andrew Rohrbach said that in addition to sending the unauthorized letter, Avenatti directed Daniels' agent to send money to his own bank account and lied to Daniels about where the money was.
"He told her that the publisher was being slow," Rohrbach said. "He told her the publisher was working on it. But the whole time he had the money and he was spending it."
The high stakes trial was full of plot twists, including Avenatti firing his lawyers and asking to represent himself, and cross-examining his former client on the witness stand.
At one point, Avenatti asked Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, about her own public statements regarding his representation of her against Trump and Trump's longtime former fixer, Michael Cohen.
"Didn't you tell the New York Times that watching me work was like watching the Sistine Chapel painted?" Avenatti asked.
"That's what you told me to say," Daniels shot back.
When Daniels first took the stand, the majority of her testimony zeroed in on how Avenatti had allegedly lied to her about the disappearance of the money. But she appeared to become frustrated when her former lawyer pressed her on if he was respectful when he represented her against Trump.
"You lied to me, that's not respectful," Daniels said, though she did later acknowledge telling federal investigators that Avenatti was polite and respectful towards her.
While making their case against Avenatti, prosecutors displayed text messages in which Daniels expressed deep frustration because she thought the publisher was withholding payment.
"I did not get paid today," she said in one message sent in 2018, about a month after she was supposed to receive the payment. "I am not fucking happy."
"The publisher owes me a payment," she wrote in another text. "This is bullshit."
Avenatti replied that he would "figure out" what was going on when in fact he had pocketed the money.
Avenatti maintained that he had done nothing wrong and said Daniels owed him money for the work he did as her lawyer. He also skewered prosecutors, saying their case against him was paper thin and comparing it to a meal that has a "cockroach in the middle of the plate," according to the New York Post.
Following Friday's verdict, one reporter asked Avenatti if he regretted firing his lawyers and representing himself.
"No, not at all," he replied.
Avenatti gained national attention when he represented Daniels in her high-profile lawsuit to break the nondisclosure agreement she signed agreeing to keep quiet about an affair she claims to have had with Trump in the mid-2000s.
The lawsuit resulted in the revelation that Cohen made an illegal hush-money payment to Daniels in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election. He later pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and bank fraud and said he broke election laws at Trump's direction. He served several years in prison as a result and was released in late November.
"Justice has been served," Cohen told Insider in response to Friday's verdict, adding that Avenatti has "shown himself to be what I have always known him to be…a conman, a liar and a thief."
Read the original article on Business Insider