A federal grand jury has indicted lawyer Michael Avenatti on 36 counts for alleged crimes including fraud, perjury, unpaid taxes, and embezzlement. The indictment was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Among the allegations is that Avenatti stole millions of dollars from five clients. One client, who is mentally ill and a paraplegic on disability, allegedly had a $4 million settlement from Los Angeles County hidden from him by Avenatti for years.
The government, which initially charged Avenatti with embezzlement and bank fraud in March, alleges that Avenatti didn’t tell the client that the money arrived, and instead funneled it into accounts for his race-car team and coffee company. Last year, the indictment claims, Avenatti didn’t send the settlement information to the Social Security Administration, causing the client’s disability payments to be cut off two months ago.
Avenatti also allegedly took another client’s $2.75 million settlement toward a purchase of a private jet for a company he “effectively” owned. Prosecutors say Avenatti failed to file personal income tax returns from 2014 to 2017, and failed to file tax returns for both him law firms from 2015 to 2017. The grand jury also said Avenatti pocketed nearly $2.4 million in taxes withheld from the paychecks of employees working for his coffee company.
In addition to his legal troubles in California, Avenatti has separately been charged in New York for allegedly attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike.
Avenatti has denied the allegations, and tweeted on Thursday that he would fight them.
He also bizarrely tweeted this “The Man in the Arena” speech from former President Teddy Roosevelt, perhaps comparing himself to a man “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again...who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly...”
If found guilty of the charges in the indictment, Avenatti could face a maximum possible punishment of 335 years in prison. Or, as Roosevelt might put it, “failing while daring greatly.”