Tuesday, April 16

Michael Avenatti convicted of cheating Stormy Daniels out of nearly $300,000 | New York

Michael Avenatti was convicted on Friday of charges he cheated the adult film actor Stormy Daniels out of nearly $300,000 she was supposed to get for writing a book about an alleged tryst with former president Donald Trump.

Avenatti stared straight ahead as the verdict was read. It was another defeat for the California lawyer, who has faced a host of legal problems after briefly rising to fame as one of Trump’s leading antagonists on cable news early in the Republican’s administration.

Avenatti dumped his lawyers and decided to represent himself shortly after the trial began, setting up a face-to-face showdown with Daniels, his former client, who appeared in a new role as star witness.

Prosecutors portrayed Avenatti as a common thief and serial liar. He countered by seeking to cast himself as a white knight who came to the rescue of Daniels until he turned on her.

Over two days of cross-examination, he questioned her about the allegations that he had swindled her out of book proceeds – and about ghost stories she had told for a possible show about the supernatural world.

Avenatti still faces other legal problems.

He has yet to begin serving a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence he received in 2020 for trying to extort up to $25m from sportswear giant Nike.

He is also awaiting a retrial in Los Angeles on charges that he ripped off clients and others for millions of dollars. He represented himself last year for six weeks before a mistrial resulted.

Daniels had initially hired Avenatti as she was trying to escape the terms of a $130,000 hush payment deal that kept her from speaking publicly about an alleged sexual encounter that Trump claims never happened.

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Avenatti parlayed his representation with Daniels into a string of cable news appearances, in which he mocked and baited Trump.

When Trump’s then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, was raided by the FBI in connection with tax evasion and payments made to women on Trump’s behalf, Avenatti contributed to the spectacle by bringing Daniels to the federal courthouse.

The relationship between the two fell apart after Daniels said she learned that Avenatti had taken a share of her $800,000 book deal for himself.

Avenatti insisted he was innocent of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

After opening statements and two trial witnesses, he shed his lawyers and confronting witnesses himself, setting up his questioning of Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford.

Avenatti asked her about things she had said for a potential program called Spooky Babes about living in a haunted house in New Orleans.

Prosecutors argued Avenatti was trying to portray Daniels as crazy – what they called a “blame the victim” defense that failed to support his claim he was owed the money after spending millions of dollars representing Daniels.

“Whether you think it’s kooky to believe in the paranormal, whether you think it’s weird, she can believe whatever she wants and still be stolen from by the defendant and still deserve not to,” assistant US attorney Mathew Podolsky told the jury.

Text messages, prosecutors said, showed that Avenatti repeatedly lied to Daniels in 2018 when she pressed him on when she would get a large installment she was owed on the book deal. They said he had already spent the money on airfare, food and payroll for his debt-ridden law firm.

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Podolsky liked Avenatti to a store cashier taking $1,000 out of a register because he believed he had worked really hard and deserved a bonus.


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