Disgraced US celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti, who represented porn actress Stormy Daniels over her alleged affair with Donald Trump, faces up to 83 years in prison after pleading guilty Thursday to defrauding his clients.
Avenatti, who acted for Daniels in her lawsuit against the now former president, is already serving time after being convicted of wire fraud in Manhattan and for trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike.
At a hearing in California on Thursday, he admitted to four more counts of wire fraud — each related to money that should have been paid to clients, but which he embezzled — and one count of endeavoring to obstruct the administration of the Internal Revenue Code, the Department of Justice said.
United States District Judge James V Selna set sentencing for September 19. Avenatti, 51, faces a statutory maximum sentence of 83 years in federal prison after his guilty pleas.
Avenatti’s current predicament is a far cry from the dizzying heights of February 2018 to March 2019 when he was the lawyer for Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
He became a household name during her legal battles with Trump over hush money she received for an alleged affair with the then-real estate developer in 2006.
Reveling in his role as an outspoken critic of the president and darling of America’s left, Avenatti appeared frequently on camera and on social media, raising suspicions that he harbored ambitions for a run for the White House.
But while representing Daniels, Avenatti was also defrauding her.
He tricked literary agents into sending $300,000 of an $800,000 advance she received for a book called “Full Disclosure” into a bank account that he controlled, without her knowledge.
Avenatti then spent the money on personal and professional expenses including plane tickets, restaurant meals and the lease of a Ferrari, prosecutors said.
He later paid back about half the money, or $150,000. Avenatti, representing himself during the Manhattan trial, unsuccessfully argued that he was owed the payments. –AFP