California litigator Michael Avenatti, who in 2018 earned stardom as President Donald Trump’s legal foil, was convicted on Friday of stealing funds from adult film actress Stormy Daniels, the client who made him famous.
A Manhattan federal jury found Avenatti guilty of single counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft related to his pocketing nearly $300,000 of Daniels’ advance for her memoir, Full Disclosure. He now faces up to 22 years in prison.
Jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon and announced they had a verdict just before 3 p.m. on Friday. The decision arrived hours after the jury sent a note to the judge saying one of the 12 panelists was “refusing to look at evidence” and “acting on a feeling.”
Avenatti’s sentencing is scheduled for May 24. On Monday, he must surrender to the U.S. Marshals in the Central District of California, where he faces a retrial on charges that he stole millions of dollars from several clients.
Outside the courthouse, the embattled lawyer said he was “very disappointed” with the verdict. “I look forward to a full adjudication of all of the issues on appeal,” Avenatti told reporters huddled in the rain.
Avenatti’s trial began Jan. 24 and included theatrical testimony about Daniels’ supposed paranormal experiences and ability to speak to dead people, Avenatti’s desperate plea for a loan from celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, and an inside look at text messages between Daniels and Avenatti that revealed how their tight-knit bond turned sour.
On the second day of trial, Avenatti ditched his public defenders and decided to represent himself. He told reporters outside the courthouse that afternoon that he was innocent and going “pro se” would give him “the best chance at winning.”
The courtroom circus also included a visit from Avenatti’s erstwhile foe Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer who arranged the NDA that silenced Daniels about her alleged romp with the president just before the 2016 election.
The two-week proceeding was Avenatti’s third criminal trial since 2020. ast year, federal prosecutors in California and New York charged the 50-year-old counselor with an array of offenses relating to his alleged theft of client funds and extortion of shoe corporation Nike. His West Coast case ended in a mistrial last summer.
In Manhattan, prosecutors say Avenatti was deeply in debt and “desperate for money” when he swindled Daniels and used her funds to make monthly payments on a Ferrari and pay his ex-wife, his girlfriend, and employees of his law firm.
“The defendant was a lawyer who stole from his own client,” assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman told jurors in closing arguments on Wednesday. “She thought he was her advocate but he betrayed her, and he told lies to cover it all up.”
“He was pretending to fight for Ms. Daniels when he was the one scamming her,” Sobelman added.
In April 2018, Daniels secured an $800,000 book contract to be paid in four installments. After the first payment, Avenatti forged Daniels’ signature on a letter to her literary agent that directed all future payments to be wired to a bank account he controlled.
For his part, Avenatti is adamant he was owed proceeds from Daniels’ book because of the “millions” in legal work he did for her throughout 2018.
“Ms. Daniels was about to embark on a fight against the president of the United States, the most powerful person on the planet,” Avenatti said during summations. “I agreed to take on that fight… but I didn’t agree to do it for free.”
While their attorney-client fee agreement stated Avenatti would receive a “reasonable percentage” of proceeds from any book or media project—an amount to be “agreed upon” later—prosecutors say he and Daniels never discussed what that percentage would be. Daniels testified that Avenatti promised to “never take a penny” from her book.
“The government presented no evidence of what a reasonable percentage would be,” Avenatti said. “They want you to determine a reasonable percentage is zero.”
Avenatti closed with his trademark dramatics, comparing the government’s case to a bug-infested meal at a restaurant. “Ladies and gentlemen, the case that the government is attempting to feed you has a giant cockroach in the middle of the plate,” the brash lawyer told jurors. “Would you eat that dish or would you send it back?”
“When you deliberate… I ask that you send it back and find me not guilty because, ladies and gentlemen, that is exactly what I am.”
Prosecutors say Avenatti snatched Daniels’ second payment of almost $150,000 and spent it on expenses for himself and his firm before repaying her in part with the $250,000 loan from Geragos. Avenatti used a cashier’s check to pay Daniels and claim the funds came from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, which he claimed mailed the check to his office.
But Daniels’ third $150,000 payment never arrived. From the fall of 2018 to February 2019, the porn star repeatedly asked Avenatti for help in getting the publisher to pony up the funds, unaware that Avenatti had already received and spent them.
Avenatti led Daniels on for months with alternating excuses: the proceeds would arrive soon, he would threaten the publisher with a legal letter, and the publishing house didn’t want to pay because Daniels didn’t do enough publicity for the book.
“There is a lot of stuff I bet they don’t know about,” Daniels texted Avenatti in November 2018, referring to a list she was making of all her publicity for the book. Avenatti replied, “Agreed. They should feel like assholes. It’s bullshit.”
In February 2019, however, Daniels’ literary agent sent her copies of the wire transfer, revealing Avenatti had received her money and spent months deceiving her. Text messages show that when Daniels confronted Avenatti, he pretended to be unaware of the payouts.
On the stand, Daniels testified that she was “shocked,” “hurt,” and “felt very betrayed and stupid” when she discovered Avenatti had been lying to her.
“I felt violated,” Daniels said last week. “He lied to me and betrayed my trust.”
Last July, Avenatti cried as he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years behind bars for trying to extort Nike for around $20 million. “I’ve learned that all the fame and notoriety in the world is meaningless,” Avenatti told the court back then. “TV and Twitter mean nothing.”
“I look forward to working hard to become the person I once was and will be if given the chance,” Avenatti added. “But I know I will never have the privilege of practicing law again.”