Attorney Michael Avenatti, a controversial public figure who repeatedly clashed with former President Donald Trump, plans to plead guilty to stealing millions from his clients. Avenatti struck a nerve on social media during the Trump presidency as a firebrand agitator, constantly picking up verbal fights with Trump and his political allies.
Avenatti is acting as his own primary counsel in the case, an unusual move that most lawyers avoid. He has reportedly attempted to reach a plea agreement with prosecutors but has been unable to find common ground. Instead, he plans to “plea open,” meaning that the judge can decide a punishment without the prosecutions needing to agree.
“Despite repeated efforts over the last year by Mr. Avenatti and his counsel, including substantial efforts made in the last 30 days, [the] defendant has been unable to reach a plea agreement with the government,” read court documents from H. Dean Steward, Avenatti’s advisory counsel.
“Mr. Avenatti wishes to plea in order to be accountable [and] accept responsibility; avoid his former clients being further burdened; save the Court and the government significant resources; and save his family further embarrassment.”
Avenatti is facing charges that he stole over $10 million in settlement funds from five of his clients: Geoffrey Johnson, Alexis Gardner, Gregory Barela, Michelle Phan, and Long Tran. He is also embroiled in other legal issues, including accusations that he pocketed money intended for adult performer Stormy Daniels.
Avenatti represented Daniels in a case against Donald Trump, in which she alleged she signed a nondisclosure agreement with the president to refrain from publicly mentioning their prior relationship. Avenatti then later pocketed money from a publisher that was meant to go to Daniels for a tell-all book about her relationship with the former president.
Avenatti was convicted on charges of extortion in 2020 for his role in a scheme involving Nike. He reportedly attempted to extort the sporting goods company out of $25 million by threatening them with bad publicity, using his popular social media account. Avenatti was sentenced to two and a half years behind bars for the incident.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe stated during the Nike trial that he felt Avenatti “had become drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived the power of his platform to be. He had become someone who operated as if the laws and the rules that applied to everyone else didn’t apply to him.”