Feds: Michael Avenatti Ripped Off Millions From Paraplegic Client

Michael Avenatti, the southern California lawyer who skyrocketed to fame last year as the attorney for AVN Hall of Famer Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against Donald Trump—only to be jettisoned by Daniels earlier this year, shortly after the suit was dismissed, as AVN.com reported—found himself looking at the possibility of a whopping 333-year federal prison sentence after feds slapped him with a 36-count indictment alleging a vast web of financial crimes, according to a Los Angeles Times report

In perhaps the most shocking charge in the indictment,  which may be read online at this link, prosecutors in the Central District of California say that the now 48-year-old Avenatti stole millions from Geoffrey Ernest Johnson, a mentally ill paraplegic who lived on disability payments in an assisted living facility.

Avenatti won a $4 million settlement for Johnson in a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, The Times reported, but never paid the money to his disabled client or even told Johnson that he had received the settlement money—instead doling out only small $1,900 “advances” and paying rent at the facility where Johnson lived.

Avenatti used the rest of the cash to cover his own expenses, and to finance a chain of coffee shops. But in his coffee shop business, Avenatti withheld taxes from employee paychecks, and then pocketed it, never paying the taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, according to a summary of the lengthy indictment in a Justice Department press release

In another instance, prosecutors allege, Avenatti embezzled more than $2 million from another client’s settlement, using the money to buy partial ownership of a private jet. Avenatti again lied to his client, according to the charges, claiming that the settlement would be paid in smaller installments. Avenatti then made some, though not all, of the “installment payments” himself, fraudulently disguising the source of the payments, so that they appeared to come from the party who lost the lawsuit, according to prosecutors.

According to U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna, in a statement quoted by NBC News, all of Avenatti's many alleged financial crimes were connected “because money generated from one set of crimes appears in other sets—typically in the form of payments to lull victims and to prevent Mr. Avenatti’s financial house of cards from collapsing.”

“I intend to fully fight all charges and plead NOT GUILTY. I look forward to the entire truth being known as opposed to a one-sided version meant to sideline me," Avenatti wrote Thursday on his Twitter account, adding that in his law career had “made many powerful enemies.”

Avenatti was arrested on March 25, as AVN.com reported, and charged with extortion and bank fraud. But the charges against the attorney unveiled on Thursday go far beyond those initial accusations.

Photo by Luke Harold/Wikimedia Commons