- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who for years has dogged President Trump, was charged Wednesday with bilking adult film actress Stormy Daniels, the woman he used to go after Mr. Trump.

The indictment was handed up by a federal grand jury in New York, along with new charges stemming from what prosecutors say was an attempt to extort more than $20 million from Nike, the sports clothing company.

Mr. Avenatti also faces charges in California, where prosecutors say he not only stole money from clients but also defrauded a bank and cheated the IRS by failing to pay taxes for years in a row.

In the case of Ms. Daniels, prosecutors charge that he helped her win a book contract, then “stole a significant portion” of her advance money. He forged her signature and gave her agent his own bank account number, the indictment says.

He then pumped the funds into keeping his coffee shop business afloat, as well as buying a Ferrari and paying friends.

When Ms. Daniels asked about her money, prosecutors say he “repeatedly lied” to her and told her he was still trying to get the cash when in fact he’d already used it. He stole about $300,000, and has yet to repay half that, the indictment charges.

Ms. Daniels isn’t named, but the facts contained in the indictment clearly apply to her situation, and she had teased a possible comeuppance for Mr. Avenatti when he was first charged earlier this year.

Michael Avenatti abused and violated the core duty of an attorney — the duty to his client,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. “As alleged, he blatantly lied to and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari.”

Mr. Avenatti, who for months was a frequent guest on cable news networks, such as CNN, has denied the charges.

“No monies relating to Ms. Daniels were ever misappropriated or mishandled,” he tweeted Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon his Twitter account was set to private.

Mr. Avenatti represented Ms. Daniels in a deal to get hush payments from Mr. Trump during the campaign. She alleges a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump more than a decade ago, before he was a presidential candidate.

Those payments created a headache for Mr. Trump, whose former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation over the payments.

Mr. Avenatti, meanwhile, gained legions of fans among Democrats who appreciated his ability to annoy the president. Mr. Avenatti even began to explore a run for the Democratic nomination, though he pulled the plug on the idea last year.

In addition to the charges involving Ms. Daniels, Mr. Avenatti was also indicted on charges stemming from his involvement with Nike.

He threatened to hold a press conference last year to embarrass the company — but according to the indictment, behind the scenes he was asking for payments of up to $25 million to keep silent.

Authorities have communications between Ms. Daniels and Mr. Avenatti. They also have tapes of calls they monitored between the lawyer and Nike.

In one conversation a Nike employee wondered why the company should pay that much.

He replied that he “held the balls” of Nike in his hand, and “could take $5 [billion] to $6 billion market cap off” the company if he went public.

The details of the indictment involving Ms. Daniels are strikingly similar to the charges Mr. Avenatti already faced in California, where he was also accused of siphoning money from clients, then using it to float his coffee shop business.

Mr. Avenatti could face still other legal jeopardy.

He represented a woman last year who accused then-Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of raping her during high school. The woman, Julie Swetnick, saw her story fall apart and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department to investigate both of them for lying to Congress.

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