MANHATTAN (CN) — Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti will head to trial come April on charges that he defrauded adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
Avenatti is accused of trying to rip off Daniels, whom he represented in a 2018 lawsuit against President Donald Trump, by stealing the advance on her book deal, which he helped to secure.
Prosecutors say Avenatti used the money, totaling about $300,000, on lavish expenses like hotels, airfare and a Ferrari, as well as to pay employees of his law firm and a coffee business he owned.
The May 2019 indictment was filed in New York’s Southern District. It alleges that Avenatti lied to Daniels repeatedly, telling her he was working on getting book fees from her publisher, when in fact Avenatti had already received the money and was putting it toward expenses from luxury car payments to dry cleaning.
“It’s a straightforward fraud,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky told a federal magistrate last year.
Avenatti pleaded not guilty and was released on bail of $300,000 — the same amount he is accused of taking from Daniels.
Since August, Avenatti has been represented by Robert Baum from the Federal Defenders of New York, who stepped in after Avenatti’s former legal team said he could no longer pay them.
The Daniels fraud case is just one of several ongoing legal matters against Los Angeles-based Avenatti. Here in February, the celebrity attorney was convicted of extorting Nike for tens of millions of dollars, for which he will be sentenced in December.
Avenatti also faces prosecution in California on charges that include stealing millions of dollars from clients’ settlement money, lying on income taxes and deceiving investigators during bankruptcy proceedings.
Apart from navigating the series of charges against Avenatti, Covid-19 guidelines have complicated scheduling for the Daniels fraud trial, originally set to begin last month.
During a pretrial conference Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman set a start date of April 26, 2021, sandwiching the trial between two matters to be heard in California. The date, all agreed, would give Avenatti’s lawyers enough time to prepare after the first California case, scheduled to begin Feb. 23, 2021, wraps up.
Given the delays the pandemic has already caused, the judge noted that the date may need to be revisited in the future.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, none of you does,” Furman said, regarding the possibility of pandemic delays into the spring. In parts of the United States including New York City, coronavirus cases are on the rise.
On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that the city is “dangerously close” to a second wave, which could lead to increased restrictions.
Furman noted that, given public interest in the Avenatti trial and need for a larger jury pool, the fraud case against Avenatti is “more complicated than your average trial.”
Baum agreed, noting that “getting a courtroom with 150 jurors in it is going to be an issue if we’re still in the midst of the [corona]virus.”
Still, for now, the date is set. “Covid aside, everybody should understand and view that as a firm date,” Furman said.
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