Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti, who is already accused of federal financial crimes, has been indicted for 36 counts of embezzlement and fraud by a California federal grand jury, USA prosecutors announced Thursday. "I intend to fully fight all charges and plead NOT GUILTY. I look forward to proving my innocence", Avenatti wrote in a tweet, accompanied by a client's testimonial praising him as "an exceptional, honest and ethical attorney".
Federal prosecutors say attorney Michael Avenatti has been charged in a 36-count federal indictment in Southern California.
Avenatti gained national attention as the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, the porn star with whom President Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen brokered an illegal hush money agreement.
During a press conference Thursday, officials announced a 36-count indictment reportedly filed by the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service.
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That same day in Los Angeles, prosecutors claimed that Avenatti misused a client settlements to fund his coffee business, and also used the money to pay personal expenses.
They allege that Avenatti drained a $4 million settlement payment from his law firm's trust account and used portions of it for the coffee business, but also concealed the receipt of the settlement from his client, a paraplegic who had sued Los Angeles County.
The announcement comes after Avenatti appeared in a Santa Ana courtroom April 1 after being charged with filing false tax returns to secure $4 million in bank loans and withholding $1.6 million from a client. The client was also denied social security benefits when Avenatti failed to respond to the administration on the client's behalf, fearing that disclosure of information the administration sought would expose Avenatti's scheme.
Avenatti embezzled settlement funds and proceeds of other matters he handled from five clients and doled out small portions of what they were due to "lull" them into thinking they were getting what they were owed, prosecutors said. Instead, according to the indictment, Avenatti gave his client periodic "advances" of no more than $1,900 and paid the rent for his assisted living facility. In one example in the indictment, Avenatti answered "no" under oath during the proceeding when asked if his firm received any fees from the Super Bowl NFL litigation. He was charged in a criminal complaint in Santa Ana, California, on March 25 for stealing a different client's $1.6 million settlement to cover his own expenses, as well as cheating a MS bank.
Avenatti's tweet Thursday included a "client testimonial" bearing a signature purportedly from Johnson that said Avenatti is "an exceptional, honest and ethical attorney and I feel fortunate to have had him represent me".