Celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti was indicted by federal prosecutors Wednesday for stealing the identity of his former client, Stormy Daniels, in order to claim more than $300,000 she was owed for a tell-all book about her efforts to expose President Trump.
In the indictment, prosecutors for the Southern District of New York accuse Avenatti of forging Daniels’ signature on a letter instructing her literary agent to wire her book advance money to an account he controlled. Daniels, an adult-film star born Stephanie Clifford, is not identified by name but the timeline and other details laid out in the document make clear that she is the client in question.
“The literary agent then wired $148,750 to the account, which AVENATTI promptly began spending for his own purposes, including on airfare, hotels, car services, restaurants and meal delivery, online retailers, payroll for his law firm and another business he owned, and insurance,” the indictment reads.
Avenatti, who rose to national prominence representing Daniels in her affair-related suit against President Trump, maintains his innocence.
“No monies relating to Ms. Daniels were ever misappropriated or mishandled. 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 evidence,” he wrote on Twitter after the chargers were made public.
The new indictment comes as Avenatti is facing separate extortion charges brought by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles in connection with his alleged efforts to blackmail Nike. The charges were brought after Nike lawyers provided a recording to the FBI in which Avenatti demands $25 million in exchange for his silence about illegal payments the company allegedly made to high-school basketball players to induce them to attend Nike-sponsored colleges.
Los Angeles prosecutors also indicted Avenatti last month for embezzling millions of dollars from his clients, one of whom was a mentally-ill paraplegic who won a suit against the city of Los Angeles but never received his settlement because Avenatti allegedly stole it. The charges ending in Los Angeles carry a maximum sentence of up to 300 years in prison.
Daniels first raised concerns about Avenatti in November, alleging that he filed a defamation suit against Trump without her consent while stealing money donated to her via a crowd-funding platform.
“For months I’ve asked Michael Avenatti to give me accounting information about the fund my supporters so generously donated to for my safety and legal defense. He has repeatedly ignored those requests,” Daniels said in the November statement. “Days ago I demanded again, repeatedly, that he tell me how the money was being spent and how much was left. Instead of answering me, without my permission or even my knowledge Michael launched another crowdfunding campaign to raise money on my behalf. I learned about it on Twitter.”
The defamation suit Avenatti allegedly filed without Daniels’s consent backfired and she was forced to pay the president’s legal bills.