A federal grand jury in California has indicted celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti on 36 counts, including embezzlement, wire fraud, tax evasion, bankruptcy fraud and bank fraud connected to his alleged theft of tens of millions of dollars from five clients, one a paraplegic.
Avenatti, who is reportedly free on a $300,000 bond, tweeted Thursday morning that he has "made many powerful enemies" throughout his legal career and intends to plead not guilty to the charges against him.
The new charges follow Avenatti's arrest in NY last month for allegedly trying to shake down Nike for up to $25 million and on two counts of wire and bank fraud from Southern California, where his firm is based. In California, it was alleged that Avenatti committed wire fraud and bank fraud to embezzle a client's money for the objective of paying off his own debts. The aircraft has been seized by federal agents.
When the IRS later put tax levies on coffee company bank accounts to collect more than $5 million, Avenatti had Tully's employees deposit cash receipts in a little-known account for his auto racing team, authorities said.
Avenatti made false statements in bankruptcy proceedings by submitting forms that under reported income such as a $1.3 million payment his firm received, the indictment said. Instead, according to the indictment, Avenatti gave his client periodic "advances" of no more than $1,900 and paid the rent for his assisted living facility.
On Thursday, Avenatti said on Twitter that the accusation that he had mishandled clients' money was "bogus nonsense" and posted an undated testimonial signed by Johnson that praised him as an "exceptional, honest and ethical attorney". The charges say he used a similar method to steal $2.75 million from another client. He was charged in a criminal complaint in Santa Ana, California, on March 25 for stealing a different client's $1.6 million settlement to cover his own expenses, as well as cheating a MS bank.
One of the clients, Geoffrey Ernest Johnson, was a mentally ill paraplegic on disability who won a $4-million settlement of a suit against Los Angeles County.
Until last month, Avenatti had only provided $124,000 over 69 payments to Johnson, the indictment said.
On Thursday, asked about Avenatti's claim that the indictment was the result of a conspiracy by prominent figures Avenatti has antagonized, Hanna dismissed that allegation: "Nothing can be farther from the truth". The client was also denied social security benefits when Avenatti failed to respond to the administration on the client's behalf, fearing that disclosure of information the administration sought would expose Avenatti's scheme.
Avenatti's two law firms are Eagan Avenatti and Avenatti & Associates.
After Avenatti was questioned about the alleged embezzlement during a judgment-debtor examination in federal court on March 22, the indictment said he fabricated a defense for himself. The money was wired to Avenatti in January 2015, but he hid it from Johnson for years, according to the indictment.