Michael Avenatti, the celebrity lawyer who rose to fame as an antagonist of former President Donald Trump, faces opening statements Wednesday in Los Angeles as part of his second federal criminal trial, just two weeks after he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison in a separate case in New York.
Avenatti, 50, is accused in California of defrauding at least five former clients of his former law firm, one a paraplegic, by stealing nearly $10 million in settlement funds from them.
He was originally charged in 2019 in a 36-count indictment that included counts of embezzlement, wire fraud, tax evasion, bankruptcy fraud and bank fraud; the trial taking place concerns only the 10 wire fraud counts. The remainder of the counts will be tried later.
Avenatti is alleged to have negotiated settlements on behalf of the former clients of his former firm, Eagen Avenatti LLP, then had the settlement proceeds deposited into a bank account he controlled, lying to his clients about the terms of the deal to prevent them from discovering the funds had already been paid, improperly, to him.
He said at the time of the indictment that “Any claim that any monies due clients were mishandled is bogus nonsense.”
For Avenatti, who became a national figure during his representation of adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, the first Los Angeles trial is just one of several additional criminal matters he faces.
On top of a second trial in Los Angeles on the remaining counts in the case involving clients of his former firm, he faces yet another federal criminal trial in New York next year on charges he cheated Daniels out of $300,000 from her book advance. Daniels and Avenatti parted ways after he represented her during a federal investigation of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s role in paying hush money to silence her allegations of an affair with Trump before he was president. Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels.
Earlier this month, Avenatti appeared in court in New York, where a judge sentenced him in his first criminal case to 30 months in prison for attempting to extort millions of dollars from Nike.
Amid tears, Avenatti told the judge he had deep regrets about his conduct, saying he had “betrayed my own values, my friends, my family and myself.”
“I, and I alone, have destroyed my career, my relationships, my life,” he said.