SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – Michael Avenatti, the headstrong lawyer recently sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over a $ 25 million extortion case in New York City, is set to stand trial in California on Wednesday for embezzling millions of his clients.
Opening statements are expected in Santa Ana during the second trial this month for Avenatti, who previously represented porn actress Stormy Daniels in her trial against President Donald Trump. Avenatti is expected to represent himself in the case after U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna granted his request on Tuesday.
Southern California federal prosecutors have accused the 50-year-old lawyer, who is currently suspended from practicing law in California, with cheating five of his clients out of nearly $ 10 million by negotiating and collecting money. settlement payments on their behalf and redirecting them to accounts. he was in control.
In one case, authorities said Avenatti raised $ 4 million from Los Angeles County for a man who suffered injuries in custody and remained paraplegic after a suicide attempt. Avenatti denied that the settlement was received and paid the man much smaller amounts ranging from $ 1,000 to $ 1,900, which he said were advances on the larger settlement, prosecutors said in court documents.
In another case, Avenatti collected a payment of $ 2.75 million for a customer and used most of the money to purchase a private jet, the documents show.
Avenatti faces 10 counts of wire fraud in connection with the allegations, which span from 2015 to 2019.
He also faces bankruptcy, bank and tax fraud charges in California. He is set to stand trial on the allegations later this year after Selna split a 36-count indictment into two trials.
In that lawsuit, federal prosecutors said they plan to take three weeks to present their case and call around 30 witnesses. The US attorney’s office in Los Angeles declined to comment before the opening statements.
In court documents, attorney H. Dean Steward – who previously represented Avenatti and continues to assist in the case – raised concerns about the jury selection process and tried unsuccessfully to delay the lawsuit, arguing that wide publicity after Avenatti’s conviction in New York could affect his rights. in that case. A message left for Steward was not resent.
Avenatti rose to prominence by publicly training with Trump, but criminal fraud charges in California and New York hampered his rapid rise. He was sentenced in New York after being convicted of attempted extortion and other charges in connection with his portrayal of a Los Angeles Youth Basketball League organizer who was upset that Nike had put end to his league sponsorship.
Avenatti faces yet another criminal case in New York City in which he is accused of cheating on Daniels over hundreds of thousands of dollars. Avenatti represented her in 2018 in lawsuits against Trump and has often appeared on wired news programs to disparage the Republican president.
Daniels said a date with Trump a decade earlier earned him $ 130,000 from Trump’s personal lawyer in 2016 to keep quiet. Trump has denied the case.
Avenatti explored the possibility of running against Trump in 2020, but his political aspirations evaporated when he was criminally charged. He pleaded not guilty to all charges and claimed to have been the victim of politically motivated attacks.
Avenatti is currently suspended from practicing law in California, according to the state bar association.