SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – Embattled attorney Michael Avenatti hired a lawyer Wednesday ahead of a status conference in federal court where he faces 36 charges of bank and wire fraud, filed by prosecutors who say he stole over $12 million from his clients and lied to the IRS.
Avenatti hired San Clemente, California-based attorney H. Dean Steward a week after a federal judge ordered him to find an attorney or divulge his finances to show why the court should appoint a public defender.
Outside the courtroom Wednesday, Avenatti said he retained Steward because of the attorney’s reputation and denied he was trying to skirt paying for a lawyer.
“No one is trying to freeload off the government,” said Avenatti.
Federal prosecutors say Avenatti, 48, stole millions in settlements from clients and strung them along by claiming the money had not arrived, instead using the funds to finance his now-defunct coffee company, a racing team and other lavish personal expenses including his share of a $5 million jet.
Avenatti hired Steward a day after the court denied his request to be assigned an attorney without disclosing his finances. Avenatti argued doing so may lead to self-incrimination in the criminal matter.
U.S. District Judge James V. Selna denied the request before Wednesday’s status conference, and ordered Avenatti to pay the Federal Public Defender’s Office in the Central District of California for preparing the filings in the case.
A trial date was to be set for sometime in the next two to three months, but Selna said it’s likely the trial will instead take place later in the year.
“This case will proceed promptly, but at a reasonable basis,” Selna said.
Federal prosecutor Julian Andre said there are about 115,000 pages of bank records in first round of discovery. Prosecutors must get as much of that discovery to Avenatti because there is no need to do a privilege review of files that were seized from him, said Selna.
Andre said some of the items include property from a law firm Avenatti no longer has control over.
Avenatti was previously represented by the firm Bienert Katzman. He said he dropped the firm for several reasons he didn’t specify, adding he was pleased Steward agreed to represent him.
“We’re going to go about defending this case and the case in New York in a diligent, organized, competent manner, the same way that I would go about handling any case that I was involved in as an attorney,” Avenatti said outside the courtroom. “We’re going to allow this process to play out, we’re going to demand facts and evidence is prevented before anyone is convicted of anything.”
He added: “I’m highly confident when this process plays out that justice will be done.”
When asked about his concerns in the case, Steward looked at his watch and said, “I’ve been on this case for about three hours.”
Avenatti – who became a fixture on cable news programs while representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her dispute with President Donald Trump – pleaded not guilty April 29 to federal charges he stole millions of dollars from his clients, lied on income tax returns and deceived investigators during bankruptcy proceedings.
He also faces extortion charges in the Southern District of New York, where prosecutors claim he tried to shakedown Nike for more than $20 million.
The nature of the federal charges he faces mean a lengthy trial and – if convicted – a long prison sentence.