- Getty/COREY SIPKIN
- The celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti has been charged with 36 counts of fraud, embezzlement, perjury, failure to pay taxes, and other financial crimes in Los Angeles, according to a newly unsealed indictment.
- Avenatti is accused of stealing millions of dollars from five clients and using multiple shell companies and bank accounts to cover up his actions.
- If he’s convicted, Avenatti faces 335 years in prison.
- Avenatti denies the charges.
- Avenatti is also a defendant in another criminal case unsealed last month: Federal prosecutors in New York charged him with attempting to extort $20 million from Nike.
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted the celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti on 36 counts of perjury, fraud, failure to pay taxes, embezzlement, and other financial crimes, according to an indictment that was unsealed on Thursday and first reported on by the Los Angeles Times.
In the indictment, Avenatti is accused of stealing millions of dollars from five clients and using a web of shell companies and bank accounts to cover it up.
Avenatti was first arrested in connection to the case on March 25 after federal prosecutors from the Central District of California charged him with wire fraud and bank fraud related to “the use of bogus tax returns to obtain a series of loans.”
The Justice Department said in a statement that Thursday’s 36-count indictment had become the “operative charging document” and that while it “alleges this conduct,” it “also significantly broadens the scope of the case.”
Nick Hanna, the US attorney for the Central District of California, said during a press conference Thursday that the charges against Avenatti were connected because he’s accused of using “money generated from one set of crimes” in “other crimes.”
Avenatti did so to prevent his “financial house of cards from crumbling,” Hanna added.
The maximum sentence Avenatti would face if convicted on all counts is 335 years in prison.
The lawyer pushed back on the charges in a series of tweets Thursday.
“I am entitled to a FULL presumption of innocence and am confident that justice will be done once ALL of the facts are known,” he wrote.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the clients Avenatti is accused of stealing from include a person with paraplegia who won a $4 million settlement in a lawsuit against Los Angeles County. The report, which cited the indictment, said Avenatti received the money from the county in 2015 but did not tell his client about it. He is accused of instead funneling most of the money through several bank accounts linked to a race-car team and coffee company he owned.
Avenatti is accused of spending all the money in five months and not telling his client about it. Instead, the Los Angeles Times said the indictment alleged, he paid the client $124,000 over the next four years and paid some rent on his behalf.
Avenatti faces additional charges of extortion in separate criminal case
Last month, Avenatti was named as a defendant in a different indictment from federal prosecutors in New York.
In the indictment on March 25, prosecutors charged Avenatti with attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike.
They said in a charging document that Avenatti tried to get the money from Nike by “threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met.”
News of Avenatti’s indictment in the Nike case came just after he posted a tweet saying he would be holding a press conference to “disclose a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated by @Nike that we have uncovered” that he said involved criminal conduct that “reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball.”
In a court filing, an FBI agent wrote that Avenatti said he would hold a press conference alleging misconduct at Nike unless he and another lawyer were paid $15 million to $25 million to conduct an internal investigation or were given $22.5 million to resolve their client’s claims and in exchange for their silence.
“Full confidentiality, we ride off into the sunset,” Avenatti told a Nike representative, according to the FBI agent.