Attorney Michael Avenatti Thursday responded to widespread reports that he faces a 36-count grand jury indictment alleging financial crimes, asserting that he plans to plead not guilty and fight the charges.
The indictment could be announced later Thursday morning, when U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna and IRS Criminal Investigation Acting Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner are expected to hold a news conference in Downtown Los Angeles.
The purported indictment expands federal charges that Avenatti is already facing and alleges fraud, perjury, failure to pay taxes, embezzlement and other financial crimes, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday morning.
Avenatti stole millions of dollars from five clients and used a tangled web of shell companies and bank accounts to cover up the theft, the Santa Ana grand jury’s indictment alleges, according to The Times.
One of the clients, Geoffrey Ernest Johnson, was a mentally ill paraplegic on disability who won a $4 million settlement of a suit against Los Angeles County. The money was wired to Avenatti in January 2015, but he hid it from Johnson for years, according to the indictment.
In 2017, Avenatti received $2.75 million in proceeds from another client’s legal settlement but allegedly concealed that too, according to the newspaper. The next day, he put $2.5 million of that money into the purchase of a private jet for Passport 420, LLC, a company he effectively owned, according to prosecutors quoted by The Times.
At the time, Avenatti and his businesses owed millions of dollars in back taxes, the government claimed, and his Newport Beach law firm, Eagan Avenatti, was weeks from bankruptcy.
Federal agents seized the Honda HA-420 jet at Santa Barbara Airport on Wednesday under a court-approved warrant that remains under seal, Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, told The Times.
The breadth of Avenatti’s alleged crimes is clear in the maximum sentence he would face if convicted on all counts: 335 years in prison, The Times reported.
“For 20 years, I have represented Davids vs. Goliaths and relied on due process and our system of justice. Along the way, I have made many powerful enemies. I am entitled to a FULL presumption of innocence and am confident that justice will be done once ALL of the facts are known,” Avenatti said in a tweet. “I intend to fully fight all charges and plead NOT GUILTY. I look forward to the entire truth being known as opposed to a one-sided version meant to sideline me.”
Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ former attorney in her dispute with President Donald Trump, appeared in federal court in Santa Ana on April 1 in connection with charges of bank and wire fraud. He was accused by federal prosecutors of embezzling a client’s money to pay off his own expenses and debts, including those of his coffee business.
Avenatti is also facing a federal case in New York for allegedly trying to extort more than $20 million from Nike, the world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel. Following his arrest, Avenatti tweeted receipts and other information he alleges show corruption on the part of Nike in recruiting of young athletes.
Avenatti’s has been free on $300,000 bond.
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