Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti has been indicted on several charges, including fraud, perjury, tax evasion and embezzlement. The 36-count indictment was issued by a federal grand jury in California on April 11. Avenatti, who became a regular sight on cable news shows when he filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump on behalf of the adult film star Stormy Daniels, faces up to 335 years in prison if convicted on all counts. He also faces extortion charges in New York that could add up to 47 years to his custodial sentence.
Avenatti is accused of using a complex labyrinth of shell companies to steal money from his clients. The money was allegedly used to fund Avenatti’s lavish lifestyle and keep his struggling boutique coffee company afloat. One of the alleged victims is a paraplegic with mental health issues who was awarded $4 million in damages after suing Los Angeles County. On April 10, federal agents arrived at Santa Barbara Airport with a warrant to seize Avenatti’s private jet.
The brash attorney has used social media effectively in the past, and he is now turning to platforms like Twitter to proclaim his innocence. In a Tweet he posted on the same day the indictments were handed down, Avenatti blamed his legal woes on the powerful enemies he has made during his career as a litigator.
Federal prosecutors generally wait until they have compelling evidence before seeking indictments in cases involving financial crimes. Criminal defense attorneys with experience in this area would likely advise clients who are facing such charges to avoid public statements and allow their legal representatives to negotiate with prosecutors. This is because the penalties for these crimes can be severe. Federal prosecutors may be less willing to reduce penalties if they have been criticized on social media or in the press.