by Ed Lyon
For those who have been residing on the moon or perhaps Mars, Michael Avenatti, 48, is a high-profile attorney who has, until recently, represented clients like Stormy Daniels, a noted porn actress who claims to have had an extramarital relationship with President Donald Trump. Avenatti has since been accused of stealing from his clients and extorting a large corporation.
Long before the Stormy Daniels saga, Avenatti sued Los Angeles County, California on behalf of jail prisoner Geoffrey Johnson, who fell from a second tier and became a paraplegic as a result. There was never a trial; the county settled for $4,000,000. Avenatti did not tell Johnson about the settlement. Instead, he banked the money in January 2015.
After Johnson lost his Social Security benefits, Avenatti began doling out small payments each month for a total of $124,000. He explained the county would pay the settlement in installments each quarter for ten or more years, and then only to a “special needs trust.” None of that was true.
Avenatti did not confine his predatory practices to marginalized members of society. In April 2019, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles issued a 36-count indictment against him for bank fraud, theft and embezzlement, which included the theft of Johnson’s settlement money. Both Johnson and, more recently, Stormy Daniels have initiated lawsuits against Avenatti for stealing their funds.
Compounding his legal troubles, in March 2019 a New York federal grand jury handed down an indictment against Avenatti for extortion. The underlying illegal conduct was his alleged attempt to extort up to $25 million from sports shoe manufacturer Nike, by threatening to release damaging information about the company.
Daniel Callahan, a California attorney who represents Johnson, said, “On a one-to-100 scale, the despicability of his conduct ranks a thousand.”
Avenatti appeared in court on April 29, 2019 with a federal public defender and entered a plea of not guilty. The California State Bar Association has begun disbarment proceedings against him; meanwhile, he remains free on a $300,000 personal recognizance bond.
In July 2019, Stormy Daniels issued what she said was her last statement regarding her former lawyer, saying, “Attorneys generally don’t forge client’s [sic] names to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from them and then lie about it for months on end either.... Further inquiries can be directed to my new and more competent attorney.”
For his part, Avenatti said: “I will be fully exonerated and justice will be done.”
Sources: losangeles.cbslocal.com, ocregister.com, reuters.com, washingtonexaminer.com, cnbc.com
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