Michael Avenatti convicted of stealing from Stormy Daniels

Michael Avenatti convicted of stealing from Stormy Daniels

A New York federal jury on Friday convicted ex-attorney Michael Avenatti of stealing about $300,000 in book-advance money from his former client, pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels.

Avenatti, 50, now faces up to 22 years in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges. 

During the trial, which began on Jan. 24, prosecutors claimed Avenatti was having financial problems linked to his law firm so he came up with a scheme to steal money from his then-client, Ms. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Avenatti forged Ms. Daniels’ name on a letter to her literary agent which directed the agent to wire two payments – that were meant for her – totaling nearly $300,000 to a bank account controlled by Mr. Avenatti.

The stolen payments were supposed to be part of Ms. Daniels’ $800,000 advance for her 2018 book, “Full Disclosure,” about a sexual encounter she claims to have had with former President Donald Trump in 2006.

Ms. Daniels’ hired Avenatti to help challenge the terms of the non-disclosure agreement — which came with a $130,000 payment — that prohibited her from publicly discussing the alleged sexual encounter, which Mr. Trump denies.

When Ms. Daniels’ complained to Avenatti about not being paid for the book deal, he allegedly told her that he would “figure out” what happened. 

“The defendant was a lawyer who stole from his own client. She thought he was her advocate, but he betrayed her and he told lies to try to cover it all up,” prosecutor Robert Sobelman said during closing arguments, according to the New York Post.

“He stole from her. He lied to her over and over and over again. All to steal and spend money that was not his. The defendant is guilty.”

Avenatti, who represented himself during the trial, insisted he was innocent. He also called into question Ms. Daniels’ credibility based on her past comments about him being sexually assaulted in prison and her paranormal-related beliefs.

A sentencing date has not yet been determined. 

He is also set to face a retrial this year in a federal criminal case in California, in which he is accused of stealing nearly $10 million from various clients. The case was declared a mistrial last year.

Avenatti is also appealing a 30-month prison sentence he received in 2020 for attempting to extort nearly $25 million from the fitness apparel giant Nike.