Avenatti pleads not guilty to defrauding Stormy Daniels
NEW YORK (AP) — The pugilistic and embattled attorney Michael Avenatti pleaded not guilty Tuesday to defrauding his most famous client, porn star Stormy Daniels, and seized the spotlight to toss a barb at President Donald Trump.
Avenatti barely spoke during his three appearances before federal judges in New York, except to answer a few procedural questions.
Twice, though, he vented to journalists his disgust with the prosecutions and his disdain for the president.
Avenatti rose to fame representing Daniels in her battle to be released from a nondisclosure deal she had signed regarding an alleged affair with the president. Daniels has said she had sex with Trump in 2006, when he was married; Trump denies the affair.
In his role as Daniels’ lawyer and since, Avenatti has repeatedly criticized the president in television appearances and the two have exchanged barbs on social media. Trump has called Avenatti a “low-life” and alleged that he has made false accusations.
Walking to a courthouse elevator between appearances Tuesday, Avenatti looked without a smile at reporters as he quipped: “Anybody know when the president and Don Jr. are going to be arraigned?”
Then, speaking before a collection of microphones set up outside a courthouse, he predicted his eventual acquittal and again made clear he believes his prosecutions are politically motivated.
“I am now facing the fight of my life against the ultimate goliath, the Trump administration,” he said. “I look forward to a jury verdict in each of these cases. I am confident that when a jury of my peers passes judgment on my conduct, that justice will be done, and I will be fully exonerated.”
His long day began at 6:54 a.m., when he surrendered to be booked formally on wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges announced in an indictment last week stemming from his representation of Daniels.
Bail was set at $300,000 at an initial court appearance. Avenatti, 48, agreed to have no contact with Daniels while the case is pending.
In his second appearance of the day, one of Avenatti’s lawyers told Judge Deborah A. Batts, who would preside over a trial, that he thought the case should be combined with charges Avenatti faces in California. A prosecutor disagreed. The judge left the issue for future consideration.
In a final court appearance, Judge Paul G. Gardephe asked Avenatti how he would plead to four separate charges of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike, the sportswear company.
“100% not guilty,” Avenatti responded repeatedly.
Avenatti is scheduled to return to court in both cases on June 18.
Avenatti was indicted last week on charges that he cheated Daniels out of $300,000 she was owed for her book, “Full Disclosure,” which was published in October.
According to the indictment, Avenatti emailed a letter, purportedly from Daniels, to her literary agent with instructions that payments from her $800,000 book deal be deposited into an account he controlled. Prosecutors say Daniels never authorized the letter and was unaware of it.
Avenatti then used the money to pay business and personal expenses, including the costs of hotels, airfare, dry cleaning and his Ferrari, the indictment said.
The charges related to Daniels are the third criminal case brought against Avenatti.
In late March, charges against Avenatti were announced the same day in New York and Los Angeles.
In New York, he was charged with trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to expose claims that the company paid the families of high school basketball players to get them to attend Nike-sponsored colleges.
In Los Angeles, he was charged with stealing millions of dollars from clients, including much of the $4 million owed to a paralyzed man, along with dodging taxes, defrauding banks and lying during bankruptcy proceedings. When the charges were enhanced last month, federal authorities seized a private jet Avenatti co-owned.
If convicted, Avenatti faces a potentially long prison sentence because the charges carry maximums stretching to hundreds of years.