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.
Avenatti responded to the charges in a prepared statement. The beleaguered lawyer denied the charges and claimed that the publishing advance was part of a deal he made with Daniels to cover her legal costs. Avenatti says that Daniels paid him only $100 for legal services worth millions of dollars. The attorney Daniels hired after firing Avenatti dismissed these claims as delusional and backed the position taken by prosecutors.
Documents are usually the key pieces of evidence in white-collar crime cases, and prosecutors generally do not move forward until they feel that they have enough paperwork to establish guilt. This is why experienced criminal defense attorneys could seek to reduce the penalties in fraud or embezzlement cases by offering prosecutors a way to avoid the risks of a jury trial. Attorneys may also advise their clients to refrain from releasing public statements that could make obtaining a favorable plea agreement more difficult.
Source: ABC News, "Feds bring new charges against lawyer Michael Avenatti for misappropriating nearly $300,000 from former client Stormy Daniels", Kaitlyn Folmer, May 22, 2019