Entertainment Celebrity Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti guilty of stealing $300k from Trump’s porn-star accuser
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Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti guilty of stealing $300k from Trump’s porn-star accuser

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Stormy Daniels with Michael Avenatti in 2019, when the duo were targeting Donald Trump with lawsuits. Photo: Getty
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Lawyer Michael Avenatti, who rose to fame for taking on then-US president Donald Trump before a slew of criminal charges ended his legal career, has been convicted of defrauding a former client, porn star Stormy Daniels.

Avenatti, who faces up to 22 years behind bars, had pleaded not guilty to charges he embezzled nearly $US300,000 in book proceeds intended for Daniels.

The verdict on Friday by a federal jury in Manhattan followed a two-week trial in which the brash, 50-year-old lawyer represented himself.

Avenatti, who is based in Los Angeles, agreed to surrender himself to US marshals in California on February 7. Sentencing is scheduled for May 24. He vowed to appeal.

“I am very disappointed in the jury’s verdict,” Avenatti said. “I am looking forward to a full adjudication of all the issues on appeal.”

Daniels, the prosecution’s star witness, testified that Avenatti had led her to believe her publisher had not disbursed advance payments totaling $US297,500 for her memoir, Full Disclosure, when she asked in 2018 and early 2019 about the delays.

She said she later learned Avenatti had diverted the money to an account he controlled, without telling her.

“I felt very betrayed and stupid,” Daniels said. “Michael had been lying and stealing from me.”

In a statement following the verdict, Daniels’ lawyer, Clark Brewster, said his client was “relieved this nightmare is over”.

Avenatti played down the dispute as a disagreement over legal fees. He said his contract with Daniels, 42, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, entitled him to a reasonable share of her book and media proceeds.

Bizarre cross-examination

The highlight of the trial was Avenatti’s five-hour cross-examination of Daniels, where he sought to undermine his former client’s credibility by exposing her interest in paranormal activities

Daniels, who is producing a documentary-style ghosthunting TV show called Spooky Babes, testified that she believed she could speak with the dead.

The spectacle of Avenatti questioning Daniels capped a public falling-out for a pair who became cable-TV mainstays in 2018 for cases they brought against Trump.

Daniels is known for receiving $US130,000 in hush money from Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in exchange for remaining quiet before the 2016 election about sexual encounters she says she had with Trump, which he has denied.

Avenatti was successful in freeing Daniels from her non-disclosure agreement with Trump.

He gained widespread recognition through frequent television appearances that made him a hero to some Trump opponents, prompting him to flirt with running against Trump in 2020.

He achieved such prominence that there were even suggestions he might might declare himself a presidential contender.

But Avenatti was hit with dozens of criminal charges in March and April 2019 accusing him of cheating Daniels, defrauding other clients, trying to extort up to $US25 million from Nike, and other crimes.

He is appealing his conviction and 2-1/2-year prison sentence in the Nike case. A federal court trial in California over the other alleged client frauds ended in a mistrial. The remaining charges have yet to be tried.

-AAP