Federal prosecutors in Santa Ana Monday moved to seize convicted Newport Beach attorney Michael Avenatti’s business jet, arguing his fraud proceeds were used to acquire the property.
Avenatti, who is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 3, filed court papers saying he had no objection to the forfeiture of the Honda HA-420.
The government routinely seizes property from criminal defendants. Avenatti pleaded guilty to several counts of fraud in June.
Avenatti admitted when he pleaded guilty that he transferred a client’s $2.5 million settlement into “an attorney trust account for another law firm,” according to the government’s motion to seize the jet. “That same day, defendant Avenatti caused Law Firm 1 to transfer the entire $2.5 million to Honda Aircraft Company, LLC, to purchase a private airplane for defendant Avenatti’s company, Passport 420.”
If U.S. District Judge James Selna approved the forfeiture of the jet then it can be determined later if anyone else who has a financial claim against Avenatti can seek proceeds, according to the prosecutors.
Avenatti made an open plea, so there is no agreement with prosecutors on possible sentence. Both sides will argue their cases in court papers and Selna will hand down the punishment.
Prosecutors have said that he stole nearly $10 million in settlement funds from at least five clients between January 2015 and March 2019 to stave off bankruptcy for his law firm, fend off creditors and spend money on himself. One of those clients was presented as evidence in his first trial, which ended with a mistrial, but Avenatti was not charged in his case.
Federal prosecutors have told Selna that they intended to seek about $9 million in restitution on wire fraud and another $5 million for tax fraud. Avenatti said he believed that the restitution would be “drastically less than that.”
Avenatti, who catapulted to fame representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels in a nondisclosure dispute with then-President Donald Trump over an alleged sexual liaison, was convicted earlier this year of identity theft and wire fraud for getting Daniels’ literary agent to send about $300,000 in advance money for her book “Full Disclosure” to a bank account the attorney managed.
Avenatti was also convicted of attempting to extort as much as $25 million from athletic apparel company Nike. In the Nike case, he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, and was given four years in the Daniels case. Some of the time will be served concurrently, meaning he received roughly five years combined.