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Joe Walsh, Forbes Staff

Michael Avenatti Found Guilty Of Defrauding Stormy Daniels


Federal jurors found former attorney Michael Avenatti guilty of defrauding a former client, adult film star Stormy Daniels, out of $300,000 from her book advance, the Associated Press reported Friday, marking Avenatti’s second criminal conviction in the last two years, in a steep fall from grace for a lawyer who became famous by tussling with former President Donald Trump.

Former attorney Michael Avenatti arrives for his criminal trial at the federal courthouse in Manhattan on January 27. Corbis via Getty Images

Key Facts

After two days of deliberation, a jury in Manhattan convicted Avenatti on one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft Friday, according to the AP and other outlets.

The verdict followed a headline-grabbing federal trial during which Avenatti ditched his attorneys and chose to represent himself, at one point personally cross-examining Daniels—whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford—about her supposed belief in ghosts and paranormal activity, in an apparent gambit to cast Daniels as unreliable.

Prosecutors say Avenatti fraudulently sent almost $300,000 from Daniels’ book publisher to a bank account he controlled in 2018: He allegedly drafted a fake letter from Daniels to trick her literary agent into thinking he had permission to receive the funds, and he lied to Daniels when she noticed the money was missing, the government said.

Avenatti—who pleaded not guilty—argued there isn’t enough evidence to prove fraud, and cast the ordeal as a dispute over legal fees incurred while representing Daniels, claiming Daniels agreed he was entitled to a portion of her book earnings.

What To Watch For

Avenatti could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud charge, and the identity theft charge carries a minimum sentence of two years.

Key Background

Daniels rose to prominence about four years ago, when the Wall Street Journal revealed she was paid $130,000 to stay quiet about an affair she says she had with Trump. With Avenatti as her attorney, she sought to invalidate that nondisclosure deal, and her subsequent fame netted television appearances and a deal for a memoir. Avenatti became famous alongside his client: A self-described “high-profile nemesis” of Trump, Avenatti was an unavoidable presence on TV news in 2018, often skewering Trump in pugnacious terms. But Avenatti’s public image collapsed after federal prosecutors in New York and California charged him in a trio of criminal cases in 2019. The famously zealous and aggressive attorney was accused of defrauding Daniels out of her book advance, trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike and embezzling settlement money from a paraplegic man and several other clients.


Avenatti already faces 30 months in federal prison, after jurors found him guilty of scheming to extort Nike in a separate 2020 trial. A judge declared a mistrial in his settlement money embezzlement case in August, after concluding the DOJ failed to turn over evidence to Avenatti, and Avenatti has sought to dismiss that case before a new trial is scheduled. 

Further Reading

Michael Avenatti Sentenced To 30 Months In Prison Over Nike Extortion Case (Forbes)

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