Prosecutors cite ‘mountain of evidence’ against Michael Avenatti

Linda D. Garrow

Michael Avenatti is a thieving liar who left behind a “mountain of evidence” that proves he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from Stormy Daniels, a federal prosecutor charged Wednesday as the disgraced attorney’s criminal trial came to a close.

“The defendant was a lawyer who stole from his own client. She thought he was her advocate, but he betrayed her and he told lies to try to cover it all up,” prosecutor Robert Sobelman told jurors in Manhattan federal court. 

“At this trial, the truth came out. The defendant’s lies and betrayal were exposed,” Sobelman added. 

Sobelman then cited a “mountain of evidence” uncovered by investigators that he says proves Avenatti stole nearly $300,000 in book-advance payments that were supposed to go to Daniels.

Daniels, a porn star who rose to national fame during the Trump administration, inked the book deal in 2018 after it was revealed she was paid $130,000 just before the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she allegedly had with Donald Trump. 

On Wednesday, Sobelman pointed to 10 things that allegedly prove Avenatti stole two advance payments for the tell-all, including a series of text messages and documents that were introduced into evidence during the trial. 

Michael Avenatti is charged with stealing nearly $300,000 in book-advance payments that were supposed to go to Stormy Daniels.
Mary Altaffer/AP

At the heart of the case was a letter Avenatti allegedly forged and sent to Daniels’ literary agent that directed the agent to deposit the payments into an account Avenatti controlled. 

When her payments did not show up on time, Daniels repeatedly asked about the money in text messages to Avenatti. 

The messages, Sobelman argued, show Avenatti lied to Daniels repeatedly, claiming he did not know where the payments were — even though he had allegedly already collected them. 

Courtroom sketch of Michael Avenatti and Stormy Daniels.
The prosecution pointed to a series of text messages and documents that prove Michael Avenatti stole the money from Stormy Daniels.
Jane Rosenberg/REUTERS

“She didn’t know the defendant was the reason she hadn’t received her payment, not the publisher,” Sobelman said. 

“The defendant lied to her about her second book payment over and over and over again,” he added. 

Avenatti allegedly spent the cash on expenses for his money-losing law firm and another coffee business he had at the time. He also blew through the money on expenses such as dry cleaning, travel, hotels, food and a lease payment on a Ferrari, prosecutors say.

Courtroom sketch of Michael Avenatti.
Michael Avenatti argued he never stopped Stormy Daniels from communicating with her literary agent as she tried to track down the payments owed.
Jane Rosenberg/REUTERS

“He stole from her. He lied to her over and over and over again,” Sobleman said of Avenatti. “All to steal and spend money that was not his. The defendant is guilty.”

Avenatti, who represented himself at trial, argued at the start of his summations that he never stopped Daniels from communicating with her literary agent as she tried to track down the payments owed to her. 

He then tried to prove his innocence by explaining nuances in the definition of wire fraud, which he is charged with in the case. 

Michael Avenatti.
Michael Avenatti faces a maximum of 22 years in prison if convicted. 
Alec Tabak

Avenatti claimed the language in the law provides him wiggle room because if he took money in the “good faith” belief that he was entitled to it, then he should be acquitted of the charge. 

“If the defendant in good faith believed he was entitled to take the money or property from the victim – even if that belief was mistaken – then you must find him not guilty,” Avenatti told the jury. 

“A good faith belief is a complete defense to all of these charges,” he added. 

He further claimed that he was entitled to a “reasonable percentage” of the money that was promised to Daniels as part of the book deal because of the work he did as her lawyer to finalize the process. 

The evidence introduced at trial shows he was “instrumental” in securing and finalizing the deal and the publicity campaign associated with the book. 

Avenatti is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. He faces a maximum of 22 years in prison if convicted. 

He has maintained his innocence in the case and has said the charges never should have been brought against him. 

The loudmouth lawyer was convicted in Manhattan federal court in 2020 for trying to shake down sportswear giant Nike for $25 million.

Next Post

What to Expect From New York Fashion Week

After weeks of planning, emailing, and Zooming, here’s what we at Vogue Runway know about the fall 2022 season in New York: It will be unlike any before. With smaller shows, tighter COVID precautions, and big names missing from the official calendar, New York Fashion Week feels on shaky footing. […]