Controversial attorney Michael Avenatti is facing a raft of felony counts filed by federal prosecutors in California and New York for allegedly defrauding his clients and attempting to extort the sportswear manufacturer Nike. The 48-year-old litigator's legal position became even more precarious on May 22 when U.S. attorneys in New York added counts of aggravated identity theft and fraud. The latest charges stem from Avenatti's representation of Stephanie Clifford, who is better known by her stage name Stormy Daniels.
Prosecutors claim that Avenatti forged Clifford's name on a document that he then sent to a book publisher. Avenatti allegedly did this so that a $300,000 advance would be sent to him instead of his client. He is said to have used the cash to fund an extravagant lifestyle. Prosecutors claim that Avenatti used some of the funds to make monthly payments on a leased Ferrari sports car.
In a public statement made on May 21, Avenatti said that he expected the additional charges. He also called the claims about his dealings with Clifford bogus and legally baseless. Avenatti said in his statement that he planned to plead not guilty on all counts and vowed to clear his name in court. Clifford has said that she is saddened but not surprised by Avenatti's declining fortunes.
Criminal defense attorneys with experience in financial crimes cases may advise their clients to avoid contact with the media whenever possible. The majority of these cases are resolved during plea negotiations, which could become far more difficult if defendants make statements critical of federal prosecutors to the press. Attorneys may also urge their clients to refrain from commenting about their cases on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.