Justice Department charges Michael Avenatti with 36 counts of fraud, perjury, embezzlement, and other financial crimes in new indictment

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Justice Department charges Michael Avenatti with 36 counts of fraud, perjury, embezzlement, and other financial crimes in new indictment

Michael Avenatti

Getty/COREY SIPKIN

  • The celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti has been charged with 36 counts of fraud, embezzlement, perjury, failure to pay taxes, and other financial crimes in Los Angeles, according to a newly unsealed indictment.
  • Avenatti is accused of stealing millions of dollars from five clients and using multiple shell companies and bank accounts to cover up his actions.
  • If he's convicted, Avenatti faces 335 years in prison.
  • Avenatti denies the charges.
  • Avenatti is also a defendant in two other criminal cases unsealed last month: federal prosecutors in New York charged him with attempting to extort $20 million from Nike, and prosecutors in Los Angeles charged him with wire fraud and bank fraud.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted the celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti on 36 counts of perjury, fraud, failure to pay taxes, embezzlement, and other financial crimes, according to an indictment that was unsealed on Thursday and first reported on by The Los Angeles Times.

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According to the LA Times, Avenatti stole millions of dollars from five clients by using a web of shell companies and bank accounts to cover his alleged misdeeds.

The maximum sentence Avenatti would face if convicted is 335 years in prison.

The lawyer pushed back the charges in a series of tweets Thursday.

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"I am entitled to a FULL presumption of innocence and am confident that justice will be done once ALL of the facts are known," he wrote.

According to the LA Times, one of the clients Avenatti allegedly stole from was a mentally ill paraplegic who won a $4 million settlement in a lawsuit against Los Angeles County. The report, which cited the indictment, said Avenatti received the money from LA county in 2015 but did not tell Johnson about it. Instead, he allegedly funneled most of the money through several bank accounts linked to a race-car team and coffee company he owned.

Then, Avenatti allegedly spent all the money in five months but did not tell Johnson about it. Instead, he paid Johnson $124,000 over the next four years and paid some rent on his behalf.

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Last month, Avenatti was named as a defendant in two other indictments from federal prosecutors in New York and Los Angeles.

New York federal prosecutors charged Avenatti with attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike.

Prosecutors from the Southern District of New York said in a charging document that Avenatti tried to get the money by "threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial & reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met."

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News of Avenatti's indictment came just after he posted a tweet saying that he would be holding a press conference Tuesday to "disclose a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated by @Nike that we have uncovered. This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball."

In a court filing, an FBI agent wrote that Avenatti said he would hold a press conference alleging misconduct at Nike unless he and another lawyer were paid between $15 million and $25 million to conduct an internal investigation, or were given $22.5 million to resolve their client's claims and in exchange for their silence.

"Full confidentiality, we ride off into the sunset," Avenatti told a Nike representative, according to the FBI agent.

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Shortly after the initial charges were unsealed, the Justice Department said law-enforcement officials would announce "details of new criminal charges against attorney Michael Avenatti ... who faces federal charges of wire fraud and bank fraud in the Central District of California."

According to prosecutors, Avenatti is accused in the California case of embezzling a client's money "in order to pay his own expense and debts," and of "defrauding a bank in Mississippi."

The lawsuit against Avenatti accuses him of executing a scheme, from roughly December 2017 to March 2019, to defraud his clients and to "obtain money and property" from them "by means of material false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and the concealment of material facts."

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Prosecutors also allege that Avenatti attempted to facilitate a fraudulent wire transfer of $494,500 from The Peoples Bank in Mississippi to a California Bank and Trust account in his law firm's name.

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