Attorney Michael Avenatti pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges of aggravated identity theft and wire fraud in Manhattan federal court. Sylvie Levine, Avenatti’s attorney, entered the plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge James Cott.
Avenatti was indicted last week for allegedly forging his former client Stormy Daniels‘ signature to “steal” a portion of her book deal advance. Avenatti allegedly stole $300,000. Daniels is identified as Victim-1 in the indictment.
The indictment states:
After assisting Victim-1 in securing a book contract, Avenatti stole a significant portion of Victim-1’s advance on that contract. He did so by, among other things, sending a fraudulent and unauthorized letter purporting to contain Victim-1’s signature to Victim-1’s literary agent, which is instructed the agent to send payments not to Victim-1 but to a bank account controlled by Avenatti.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman said last week that Avenatti “abused and violated the core duty of an attorney – the duty to his client.”
“As alleged, he used his position of trust to steal an advance on the client’s book deal. As alleged, he blatantly lied to and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari,” Berman said. “Far from zealously representing his client, Avenatti, as alleged, instead engaged in outright deception and theft, victimizing rather than advocating for his client.”
Avenatti denied the allegations and said “no monies relating to Ms. Daniels were ever misappropriated or mishandled. She received millions of dollars worth of legal services and we spent huge sums in expenses. She directly paid only $100.00 for all that she received. I look forward to a jury hearing the evidence.” He later added:
I look forward to a jury hearing all of the evidence and passing judgment on my conduct. At no time was any money misappropriated or mishandled. I will be fully exonerated once the relevant emails, contracts, text messages, and documents are presented … I was entitled to any monies retained per my agreement with the client. My agreement for representation and compensation included a percentage of any book proceeds.
Avenatti also faces a hearing later today on charges from the SDNY of allegedly attempting to extort Nike. Avenatti has denied those charges. Avenatti faces additional legal troubles in California, where has been charged for alleged wire fraud and bank fraud.
[Image via Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images]
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