May 23 (UPI) — A federal grand jury in New York City indicted attorney Michael Avenatti on Wednesday accusing him of stealing $300,000 from client Stormy Daniels and attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike.
In separate indictments, Avenatti faces charges of fraud and aggravated identity theft in the Daniels case, and conspiracy to commit extortion in the Nike case. He was informally charged in both cases in March.
In the case involving former client Daniels prosecutors said Avenatti stole about $300,000 from her and failed to repay about half of the figure. Daniels, an adult film star born Stephanie Clifford, isn’t named in the indictment, but sources have confirmed her identity as “Victim-1” in court documents to CNN and NBC News.
Avenatti allegedly used a “fraudulent document purporting to bear his client’s name and signature to convince his client’s literary agent to divert money owed to Avenatti’s client to an account controlled by Avenatti,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York’s Southern District said.
Avenatti represented Daniels amid a scandal in which President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about an affair she said she had with Trump after his marriage to Melania Trump. The scandal resulted in campaign finance convictions for Cohen, because he made the hush-money payment in the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
In the Nike case, prosecutors said Avenatti threatened to release damaging information about the company if it didn’t pay $1.5 million to a client who had the information. He also said Nike must retain him and another person for between $15 million and $25 million to conduct an internal investigation.
The announcement of charges in March came hours after Avenatti tweeted about a news conference he planned to hold to release the damaging information.
Avenatti tweeted Tuesday night that he planned to plead not guilty to all charges.
“No monies relating to Ms. Daniels were ever misappropriated or mishandled,” he tweeted. “She received millions of dollars worth of legal services and we spent huge sums in expenses. She directly paid only $100.00 for all that she received. I look forward to a jury hearing the case.”
Wednesday’s indictments are the second and third federal indictments Avenatti has faced in less than two months. In April, a federal grand jury indicted him on 36 counts of fraud, perjury, failure to pay taxes, embezzlement and other financial crimes for allegedly stealing millions from five clients through a group of shell companies and bank accounts.