Avenatti pleads not guilty to stealing $300K from Stormy Daniels

Celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti faced a rapid-fire series of Manhattan federal court appearances Tuesday that resulted in two not-guilty pleas, several encounters with a crush of press and one courthouse cafeteria lunch.

In separate arraignments, Avenatti pleaded not guilty in two cases, one in which he is charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for allegedly stealing $300,000 from a former client, adult film actress Stormy Daniels, and a second matter in which prosecutors say he attempted to extort more than $20 million from sportswear giant Nike.

A grand jury indicted him in both cases last week.

In the Daniels case, he surrendered to federal authorities early Tuesday morning, according to Assistant US Attorney Robert Sobelman, and was released on a bail package including a $300,000 personal recognizance bond.

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Avenatti is accused of stealing a portion of Daniels’ advance for her book contract, according to court papers, and using that money to pay employees of his law firm and a coffee business he owned. As part of the bail conditions set Tuesday, he is prohibited from contact with Daniels except in the presence of counsel.

After his arraignment in the Daniels case, a brief break allowed him time to dine with three of his lawyers in the federal court cafeteria.

Avenatti is also indicted in a third case in California, in which he is alleged to have defrauded five clients, and at his second appointment Tuesday all three of the cases momentarily converged.

At a pretrial conference for the Daniels case, an attorney for Avenatti in the Nike case, Scott Strebnick, asked US District Judge Deborah A. Batts to move to make a motion to transfer the Daniels case to California, arguing that “in effect this is a sixth client that the government alleges was defrauded in the same modus operandi.”

The judge, however, nodded as Assistant US Attorney Matthew Podolsky told the court that the effort was “clearly for the sake of delay,” and denied Strebnick’s request.

As Avenatti left the courtroom, he told reporters he didn’t have any further comment, then turned before entering the elevator to add: “Anybody know when the President and Don Jr. are going to be arraigned?”

Avenatti became a household name during his representation of Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, when prosecutors pursued a case last year against President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Cohen pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, including having made an illegal campaign contribution by paying $130,000 during the 2016 election cycle to Daniels to silence her claim of an affair with Trump — a payment prosecutors have said was made at Trump’s direction. Trump has denied the affair, and Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence.

In the case involving Nike, Avenatti is alleged to have told attorneys for the company that he would release what he said were allegations of misconduct by employees on the eve of both the company’s quarterly earnings call and the start of the NCAA tournament.

Avenatti said he would disclose the allegations at a press conference, according to court papers, unless Nike made millions in payments to him and a co-conspirator by hiring them to conduct an “internal investigation.”

By the time of his arraignment in the Nike case — his third court appointment of the day — the usually wired Avenatti sat slumped in his chair, rubbing his eyes.

But he soon rebounded. As the judge asked how he pleaded to the four counts against him, including extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion, he repeated, practically shouting in response to each count: “100% not guilty.”

Facing the press for a final time Tuesday, Avenatti made his way down the courthouse steps, where he attempted to recast himself as a victim after hours of arguments from government prosecutors portraying him as a criminal.

“For over 20 years, I have represented Davids vs. Goliaths across this nation in many courthouses just like this,” he told a wall of cameras. “I am now facing the fight of my life against the ultimate Goliath, the Trump administration. I intend on fighting these charges and 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.”

He is due back in Manhattan federal court in both cases on June 18.