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Baton Rouge Legal Blog

Michael Avenatti charged with fraud in Stormy Daniels case

Louisiana residents are likely aware that Michael Avenatti has been charged by federal prosecutors in multiple states with a raft of felony counts including extortion, wire fraud, and money laundering. The controversial litigator suffered yet another legal setback on May 22 when U.S. attorneys in New York charged him with identity theft and fraud over his dealings with the adult film star Stormy Daniels.

It was representing Daniels in her lawsuit against President Trump that made Avenatti a household name and regular guest on cable news shows. Prosecutors allege that the 48-year-old attorney obtained a $300,000 book advance that should have gone to Daniels by forging his client's signature on a document he then submitted to the publisher. Avenatti is alleged to have used the money to pay the expenses of his struggling law firm and fund a lavish lifestyle that featured exotic automobiles and luxury apartments.

NIH study: teen drivers more dangerous once they are licensed

The National Institutes for Health and Virginia Tech University published the results of a study where researchers compared 90 teens' driving behaviors when they had a learner's permit and when they became licensed. Teens in Louisiana and their parents should know that the 90 participants were eight times more likely to crash during their first three months as licensed drivers than during their last three months with a permit.

Adult supervision has a role to play in this. Researchers believe that there are certain driving skills one can only learn alone and that supervision can be an obstacle in this regard. With that supervision withdrawn when they obtain a license, teens become unsafe.

Business owner prevails in lawsuit filed by city

Many Louisiana businesses engage in commercial litigation when legal disputes arise. In some cases, the issues involve zoning and permitting problems. Recently, a swamp tour business in St. Martin won a ruling in its favor regarding a lawsuit that was filed by the St. Martin Parish Council.

According to media reports, the council filed a lawsuit against the Wharf on Lake Martin and Champagne's Cajun Swamp Tours, both of which are run by the same owner. The council was seeking to revoke the owner's permit that he obtained to locate his business on the shore of Lake Martin in 2011. The city said that the approval was made in error due to a clerical mistake because the area was not zoned for commercial purposes.

Online study: drivers distracted by group chats, social media

Distracted driving, a widespread issue in Louisiana and elsewhere, was the subject of a new online study from the market research firm Wakefield Research. Nearly 2,000 drivers from across the nation responded to it. The results were recently shared by Root Insurance, a company known for providing insurance discounts to drivers who avoid phone use.

According to the study, respondents admitted to using their phones for an average of 13 minutes a day while behind the wheel. About 52% cited group chats, including text and email chains with multiple people, as the one phone-related distraction that they would most frequently engage in on the road. Another 33% said the same for social media, including newsfeeds and even memes, while 18% said it for the streaming of videos.

Louisiana woman who staged her own kidnapping sentenced

A 32-year-old Louisiana woman who admitted to faking her own kidnapping has been sentenced to 41 months in prison. The woman learned of her fate during an April 17 sentencing hearing held in a district court in East Feliciana Parish. Court records indicate that the Hammond resident entered a guilty plea to a charge of wire fraud in January.

According to prosecutors, the woman sent a series of text messages to her Ouachita Parish employer in November that claimed she had been kidnapped and would be killed if a ransom of $4,500 was not paid. The texts are said to have instructed the woman's former employer to deliver the money to an address in Jackson, Mississippi. After contacting the Louisiana State Police, court records reveal that the employer spoke with the woman on at least two occasions. During these conversations, the woman is claimed to have said that her situation was precarious and she would suffer serious harm if the ransom was not paid.

Bicycling in Louisiana may require extra caution

Riding your bicycle is a great way to get exercise and fresh air, whether you commute on your bike to work or ride just for fun. Although many people think of biking as a carefree form of transportation, bicycle crashes can cause serious injuries or death.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 800 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes in 2016. Also, the Wall Street Journal determined late last year that more bicyclist deaths have occurred in Louisiana than all other states in the country except one.

Distracted driving is both prevalent and dangerous

There are many ways in which a person can become distracted while driving in Louisiana and across the country. According to a study from Zendrive, distracted driving rose in each area in which data was collected and analyzed. The research also found that motorists may engage in dangerous activities behind the wheel while also portraying themselves as safe drivers. Overall, 90 percent of respondents said that they considered themselves to be in that category.

However, 47 percent of respondents said that they used their phones more than 10 percent of the time while driving. This means that they are not focusing on the road for 28 percent of the time that they are driving, which makes them a bigger threat than drunk drivers. A representative from Stopdistractions.org said that smartphone use had become an epidemic and was one of the most dangerous things a driver could do.

Business owner pleads guilty to wire fraud

On April 5, a 55-year-old Louisiana business owner entered a guilty plea in federal court to a single count of wire fraud. He submitted a total of eight false applications to three different finance companies, and his fraud netted him $294,000. The owner of Ameritek Office Solutions acknowledged that there were no sales or deliveries of office equipment.

The defendant is set to be sentenced on July 10. It was not clear whether the man was free on bail or if he would held in custody until that date. He could spend up to 30 years in jail as well as another five years on supervised release. In addition to the time in custody, the defendant could be subject to up to $1 million in fines.

IIHS: newer pickups less safe for passengers than drivers

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has been crash-testing modern two-row pickup trucks for passenger safety, and their results may be discouraging to many Louisiana residents. It turns out that passengers in these pickups are more likely to suffer injury or death than the drivers.

The IIHS analyzed 10 pickups and found that driver side safety was "good" in all but two cases. The Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tundra received a score of "marginal." However, these results are favorable compared to those for passenger safety.

Michael Avenatti charged with extortion, embezzlement and fraud

Michael Avenatti became a familiar face on television screens in Louisiana and around the country in 2018 when he filed lawsuits against President Trump and attorney Michael Cohen on behalf of adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Daniels has since fired Avenatti, and the 48-year-old litigator's fortunes took another turn for the worse on March 25 when he was taken into custody in New York on extortion charges and charged in Los Angeles with embezzlement. The beleaguered attorney faces up to 100 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

According to federal prosecutors, Avenatti attempted to extort between $15 and $25 million from the sports apparel company Nike. Avenatti is alleged to have threatened to use his public profile to take billions off Nike's stock market value by accusing the company of paying amateur basketball players in violation of NCAA rules. Avenatti and an unindicted co-conspirator are said to have told Nike that they would remain quiet only if they were paid millions for unwanted legal work.