Michael Avenatti indicted on charges of stealing from Stormy Daniels after Trump legal battle

Bart Jansen

WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors brought yet another set of charges against celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti on Wednesday, this time alleging that he skimmed nearly $300,000 from Stormy Daniels, the adult actress he represented in a case against President Donald Trump.

Prosecutors in New York charged that Avenatti sent a fraudulent and unauthorized letter purporting to contain Daniels’ signature to her book agent instructing the agent to send payments to his bank account rather than to her.

The indictment, revealed on Wednesday afternoon, leaves Avenatti facing three sets of federal charges in two states. Prosecutors have also accused him of trying to extort money from shoemaker Nike and of stealing from clients in Los Angeles

Avenatti, a pugnacious California lawyer, rose to prominence after representing Daniels in a legal battle against Trump over a payment in the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign to silence her claim that the two had an affair years earlier. He had been a prominent legal antagonist of Trump, and once suggested he might run for president himself. 

Avenatti said on Twitter that "no monies relating to Ms. Daniels were ever misappropriated or mishandled." He said he plans to contest the charges and "will be fully exonerated once the relevant emails, contracts, text messages, and documents are presented."

Prosecutors charged that Avenatti spent money meant for Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, on airfare, hotels, car services, meal delivery, online retailers and his law firm's payroll. When Daniels asked what happened to the money, Avenatti allegedly lied and said he was still seeking payment from her publisher, prosecutors said.

About one month after diverting Daniels' initial payment, Avenatti used funds from another source to pay Daniels $148,750 so that she wouldn’t realize he had taken her money, prosecutors said. But a week later, Daniels’ agent sent another $148,750 payment to Avenatti’s account and he again allegedly began spending the money, prosecutors said.

“Michael Avenatti abused and violated the core duty of an attorney – the duty to his client," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. "As alleged, 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.”

Daniels’ book, “Full Disclosure,” which was published in October, described her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump at a Lake Tahoe resort. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, negotiated a $130,000 payment before the 2016 election to keep quiet about the incident. Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for the campaign-finance violation, among other charges. 

Both Cohen and the Justice Department have said the illegal payments were made at Trump's direction. Trump has denied wrongdoing in the incident.

Daniels filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump, but a federal judge dismissed the case in December and ordered her to pay $292,000 to the president for his legal costs. She tweeted March 25 after the Nike charges that she had fired Avenatti a month earlier after “discovering that he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly.” She did not elaborate.

"Knowing what I know now about Michael Avenatti, I am saddened but not shocked by news reports that he has been criminally charged today," Daniels said.

Avenatti was also formally indicted Wednesday for extortion and conspiracy for allegedly threatening to reveal what he claimed was evidence that Nike made improper payments to high school basketball players unless the company paid $1.5 million to one of his clients and $15 million to $25 million for him and an associate to conduct an investigation of Nike.

Another batch of criminal charges was revealed in Los Angeles accusing Avenatti of embezzling $12 million from his clients to pay for personal expenses, a coffee business and a private jet.

Avenatti allegedly embezzled $3.1 million from one client, a paraplegic man who had received a settlement from Los Angeles County. Prosecutors said he used the money to finance his coffee business and to pay his personal expenses, ultimately giving his client only a fraction of the $4 million he was owed.

More about lawyer Michael Avenatti's legal problems:

Former Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti pleads not guilty in embezzlement case

Michael Avenatti charged with stealing millions from clients to pay for his coffee business and jet

Michael Avenatti, lawyer who battled President Trump, charged with extorting Nike, embezzlement and fraud

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michael Avenatti indicted on charges of stealing from Stormy Daniels after Trump legal battle