On Thursday, disgraced attorney Michael Avenatti pleaded guilty to embezzling millions of dollars from four of his clients, taking another step closer toward resolving a flurry of federal charges against him.
The lawyer, who is representing himself, failed to reach a deal with federal prosecutors earlier in the week but decided to change his plea in an effort to hold himself accountable and avoid any further embarrassment to his family. He faces a maximum sentence of 83 years in prison.
“Despite repeated efforts over the last year by Mr. Avenatti and his counsel, including substantial efforts made in the last 30 days, defendant has been unable to reach a plea agreement with the government,” Avenatti’s lawyer said. “Mr. Avenatti wishes to plea in order to be accountable; avoid his former clients being further burdened; save the Court and the government significant resources; and save his family further embarrassment.”
Avenatti is already serving two prison sentences from prior convictions for stealing nearly $300,000 from his former client, adult film actress Stormy Daniels, and from attempting to extort Nike out of more than $20 million.
“I misappropriated and misused certain of their settlement funds,” Avenatti told the court, but added he believes the amount owed in restitution is “drastically less” than the $9 million stated by the government.
Avenatti still faces 31 counts of wire fraud, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, bankruptcy fraud and tax-related charges.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, which is prosecuting the case, said in a statement, “The government is reviewing the case to determine how it will move forward after today’s guilty pleas. In the event that the government elects to proceed on the remaining counts, Judge Selna will vacate the September 19 sentencing date.”
Dean Steward, a lawyer advising Avenatti on his defense, declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing.
Avenatti rose to fame after he represented Daniels in her lawsuit to break a confidentiality agreement with Trump to stay mum about an affair she said they had. He became one of Trump’s leading adversaries, attacking him on cable news programs and Twitter, and at one point considered challenging him in the 2020 presidential election.
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