Convicted attorney Michael Avenatti failed Friday to convince a federal judge to release him on bail in an Orange County fraud case, but his home confinement in a friend’s home in Venice will be relaxed enough so the defendant can visit his lawyer in Orange County to prepare for his trial in July.
Avenatti’s attorney, Dean Steward, noted that his client — who rose to prominence while representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels in a dispute with former President Donald Trump over a nondisclosure agreement — has been in home confinement for 13 months.
“Now we have proof he’s neither a flight risk or a danger” to the community, Steward told U.S. District Judge James Selna. “If he really wanted to go, he could have.”
Selna said he doubted Avenatti was ever considered a flight risk. The issue was whether he posed a risk to the community for committing more crimes while out on bail, which is he accused of doing and prompted him to be taken into custody in January 2020.
Prosecutors accused Avenatti in January of last year of illegally structuring transactions to elude detection so he could acquire a Mercedes-Benz and continue living a “lavish lifestyle.” They allege that in May 2019, he fraudulently transferred to his ex-wife Christine Carlin about $717,000 of a $1 million payment and then Carlin returned $500,000 of the money to the defendant.
Avenatti appealed the jailing, but federal appellate justices sided with Selna.
Avenatti was convicted in New York in February 2020 of attempting to shake down shoe giant Nike in what prosecutors said was an attempt to dig his way out of massive debt.
The only time Avenatti has left the residence in Venice was to get the first of two COVID-19 vaccines with the judge’s permission, Steward said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Sagel told Selna, “There is no legal basis to reopen (the bail),” arguing there “is nothing new, nothing material” that has occurred since Avenatti was first jailed.
“He is a danger to the community,” Sagel said. “He was then. He is now.”
The reason Avenatti has stayed out of trouble is because of the conditions Selna has imposed on the defendant, Sagel said.
The judge agreed.
“In my view, nothing has changed,” Selna said. “I don’t think Mr. Avenatti complying with the terms of release mitigate his danger to the community.”
That prompted Avenatti, who was attending the hearing via a telephone hookup, to ask if he could speak with his attorney, but Sagel jumped in and said prosecutors would not object if the defendant wanted permission to be able to visit with his attorney to help prepare his case. Steward and Sagel were expected to formalize an agreement on that issue for Selna to sign off on.
Next month, jurors will be brought in as the attorneys prepare for Avenatti’s trial in federal court in Santa Ana on charges that he stole money from his clients and failed to pay personal taxes as well as payroll and other taxes from his ownership of a coffee shop chain.