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‘He stole from me and lied to me,’ Stormy Daniels testifies of her ex-lawyer Avenatti

In a bid to impeach the porn star's hours of direct testimony against him, California attorney Michael Avenatti focused his brief 10-minute cross-examination of his former client on her belief in the paranormal.

MANHATTAN (CN) — “Very, very angry, shocked, disbelief, hurt,” the porn star Stormy Daniels testified in Manhattan federal court on Thursday afternoon, describing how she felt upon finding out that her personal attorney had forged her signature and for months had been diverting hundreds of thousands from her $800,000 advance for a 2018 book deal.

The 42-year-old Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, entered the plexiglass-walled witness box at 11:15 on Thursday morning on day four of a trial where her former attorney Michael Avenatti is charged with stealing roughly $300,000 from her book deal with St. Martin’s Press.

Wearing a droopy maroon cardigan over a black dress on Thursday with her signature bleached blond hair, Daniels testified over three hours of direct questioning as the prosecution’s star witness.

Daniels said the Los Angeles-based Avenatti was her lawyer for 12 months from February 2018 until February 2019, when she hired new counsel “because he stole from me and lied to me.”

Avenatti went from representing celebrities to becoming one in his own right during that time while representing Daniels as she fought to terminate a hush-money deal that barred her from going public about her alleged sexual relationship with the 45th American president, Donald Trump, before he took office.

On Monday, Avenatti, 50, returned to the Manhattan federal courthouse where he previously represented Daniels now as a defendant in his third criminal trial in two years, his second in New York's Southern District.

Daniels testified during direct questioning Thursday that Avenatti told her during a lunch in Los Angeles in February 2018 he would charge her a onetime fee of $100 for his representation.

"He would take a lot of the winnings against Donald Trump," she said on how he would be compensated. "When it came to book deal, or a movie deal or a documentary, he said he would discuss it later."

Daniels said she paid Avenatti that inital $100 payment for his legal representation in cash during that lunch, which he then used to pay for the meal.

By April 2018, Daniels’ literary agent Luke Janklow inked an $800,000 publishing deal with St. Martin’s Press.

Daniels testified on Thursday she screamed in her car at a gas station in Sun Valley when she saw that the first book advance payment, $212,500, had made it into her bank account.

Daniels, who was in Sun Valley that day to shoot a commercial for an adult video company, said seeing that first payment from the book deal “kind of solidified that I was a real author, something I’d been working on for 10 years."

Avenatti had told Daniels he would "never take a penny" from her book deal money, she said, "because I was courageous, and I earned it, and I deserved it."  

“He was going to get a big payday when he finally got Trump, and we had crowd-funding money," she explained.

Daniels said she expected a second advance payment from the publishing company after she completed the first draft of the book in July but didn’t get paid until months later when Avenatti told her the publishing company had sent the second payment directly to him as a cashier’s check.

“I was confused and extremely irritated," Stormy testified. In response to her frustration, she said Avenatti told her: “at least we got it.”

Four months then passed without receiving her third payment, Daniels testified, explaining that she was enduring a tense domestic situation while living in the same house as her ex-husband. “Each day is one step closer to one of us going to jail,” she wrote in a text to Avenatti at the time, again asking for the third payment from her publishing deal.

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“Michael told me that the publisher had not sent the payments, and I had not heard differently from anyone else so I believed him,” she explained during direct testimony.

Daniels testified that her relationship with Avenatti reached a turning point in mid-February 2019 after the literary agent forwarded her wire transactions showing that Avenatti had forged her signature in August 2018 and diverted her second and third advance payments to a trust account she was unaware of.

“I knew that he had been lying to me and that he stole from me,” Daniels said of the bonafide “wire proof” from Janklow that Avenatti had been stealing from her.

“You don’t have to find it. You had it. You were lying,” she testified. “Mic drop!”

Pressed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman what she meant by “mic drop,” she explained that with proof of the wire transaction, “there’s no denying that this came from a banking establishment.”

Daniels then hired Tulsa-based attorney Clark Brewster and terminated Avenatti’s repretentation. She publicly renounced Avenatti the following month, claiming that he dealt with her “extremely dishonestly.”

Two months later, Avenatti pleaded not guilty to a pair of two separate criminal indictments on the same day in the very Manhattan federal courthouse where a year earlier he had represented Daniels her legal quest against the then-president.  

For the Stormy Daniels case, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Cott set a $300,000 bail package — the exact amount prosecutors accuse Avenatti of diverting from a publishing advance Daniels secured through a book deal. In a different New York federal courtroom hours later that year, Avenatti pleaded “One hundred percent not guilty” to separate allegations that he attempted to extort sportswear monolith Nike.

Avenatti was represented by public attorneys from the Public Defenders of New York when the trial kicked off on Monday, but by noon the next day, he abandoned his right to counsel and was granted his request to represent himself for the duration of the trial.

While federal prosecutors accuse a cash-strapped and bankrupt Avenatti of stealing Daniels’ book advance as his firm is sinking, he insists that the client fee agreement he had with Daniels entitled him to “reasonable percentage to be agreed upon” of the proceeds from any book or media opportunity.

Avenatti commenced cross-examination of Daniels for 10 minutes on Thursday before the trial broke for the day. He will resume questioning of Daniels on Friday morning.

During the sliver of cross-examination Thursday, Avenatti questioned Daniels about her television project about ghost hunting and the paranormal, "Spooky Babes."

“You claim to have the ability to speak to a haunted doll named Susan," he sneered incredulously, reprising an angle his federal defenders had previewed during opening arguments.

“Susan speaks to everyone on the show. She’s a character on the show," Daniels responded. "She has her own Instagram.”

Ronald Richards, a Beverly Hills attorney, says Avenatti’s questioning of witnesses while defending himself against the charges related to Daniels are triggering déjà vu of the California embezzlement trial last year where Avenatti dodged charges of cheating five of his clients out of nearly $10 million.

“The questions Michael Avenatti is asking the witnesses are his stock cross-examination questions,” Richards told Courthouse News on Thursday. “They are being recycled in New York. The difference in this trial is the judge is not allowing him to develop theoretical legal positions with the witnesses and is tightly keeping him married to fact questions."

In the California proceedings, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna ruled a mistrial last August on technical grounds that federal prosecutors failed to turn over relevant financial evidence to Avenatti.

Daniels published her memoir “Full Disclosure” in the fall of 2018, detailing her alleged encounter with Trump in 2006 and the subsequent hush-money payment facilitated by Trump’s then-personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen ahead of the 2016 election.

Cohen would later plead guilty to making payments with the intent of influencing a federal election, but Trump denies that he and Daniels ever had sex.

Cohen, who served a year behind bars on his guilty plea before finishing his three-year prison term at home in Manhattan, attended Monday’s opening arguments and traded barbs with Avenatti during and after the hearing.

Avenatti said on Thursday expects two to three days for his defense case, but has not said whether or not he would be taking the stand in his own defense.

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