Michael Avenatti, the brash lawyer recently sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison in a $25 million extortion case in New York, now is on trial in California on charges of embezzling millions from his clients and told jurors Wednesday that he “gave people who had no chance a fighting chance.”
It is the second trial this month for the 50-year-old lawyer who once represented porn actress Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against then-President Donald Trump. Federal prosecutors in Southern California have accused Avenatti of cheating five of his clients out of nearly $10 million by negotiating and collecting settlements on their behalf and funneling the payments to accounts he controlled while lying to them about what happened to the money.
“They trusted Michael Avenatti completely, and he violated their trust and stole their money,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Sagel told jurors in an opening statement at the trial in Santa Ana.
Avenatti, who is suspended from practicing law in California but is representing himself at trial, has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of wire fraud in connection with the allegations spanning from 2015 to 2019. He denied embezzling money and said his law firm was entitled to recoup expenses if settlements were reached.
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“We represented thousands of little guys, the Davids versus the Goliaths,” Avenatti told the jury in an opening statement. “We gave people who had no chance a fighting chance.”
Prosecutors say they expect to take three weeks to make their case. In one instance, they allege Avenatti collected $4 million from Los Angeles County for a man who suffered injuries in custody and was left paraplegic after a suicide attempt, paying out much smaller amounts that he told the man were advances.
In another case, prosecutors said Avenatti collected a $2.75 million settlement for a client and used the bulk of the money to buy a private plane.