Prosecutors on Wednesday indicted disgraced celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti on fraud and aggravated identify theft charges related to his former client, Stormy Daniels.
Avenatti forged Daniels’ signature and used fraudulent documents to convince a literary agent to divert nearly $300,000 in payments from Daniels’ book advance, according to federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
They claimed that Avenatti used the money “principally for his own personal and business purposes.”
The indictment does not identify Daniels as the victim, but ABC News reported earlier on Wednesday that the charges were related to Avenatti’s work with the porn star.
According to prosecutors, Avenatti received two separate payments of $148,750 in the alleged scheme. He also “lied” to Daniels when she inquired about her book payments by claiming that the publisher had yet to pay her literary agent.
After obtaining the first payment, Avenatti allegedly used funds from another source to pay Daniels so that she would not realize she had been scammed.
Around a week later, he received another payment through the scheme. Avenatti used that money to make a payment to a close friend, to lease a luxury automobile, and pay for “airfare, dry cleaning, hotels, restaurants and meals, payroll, and insurance costs,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said that in order to conceal the ploy, Avenatti led Daniels to believe that the publisher was refusing to pay the literary agency.
The same New York prosecutors are handling another extortion case involving Avenatti, who was once a prominent guest on CNN and MSNBC.
Avenatti was indicted in New York on March 25 on charges that he tried to extort Nike, the sports apparel company. The disgraced lawyer was also indicted in California on charges that he evaded taxes and bilked clients out of settlement money.
Avenatti allegedly hid a $4 million settlement that was supposed to be paid out to a mentally ill, paraplegic man he represented in a lawsuit in Los Angeles. (RELATED: Avenatti Allegedly Scammed Paraplegic Client Out Of $4 Million Settlement)
Avenatti said Tuesday that he expected to be indicted again, but he did not say that the case involved Daniels.
Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, arrives with her attorney Michael Avenatti (L) at ABC studios to appear on The View talk show in New York City, New York, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
“I expect an indictment to issue from SDNY in the next 48 hrs charging me in connection with my arrest in March,” he tweeted. “I intend on fighting these bogus/legally baseless allegations, and will plead not guilty to ALL CHARGES. I look forward to the trial where I can begin to clear my name.”
Avenatti represented Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in legal battles with President Donald Trump and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in October 2016 as part of a deal to prevent the adult film actress from discussing an alleged affair she had with Trump in 2006.
Cohen pleaded guilty on Aug. 21, 2018 to a campaign finance violation because of the payment.
Avenatti appeared frequently on TV to berate Cohen and Trump. But he also used that platform to pick up new clients that he used to elevate his political standing. He represented Julie Swetnick, a woman who claimed she was drugged and raped at a party attended by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
No evidence has emerged to support Swetnick’s claims, and several people who know her have questioned her allegations.
Avenatti at one point in 2018 floated the idea of running for president in 2020.