Michael Avenatti, who became a star lawyer representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in her case against then-president Donald Trump, on Friday was convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from her.
He faces the possibility of decades in prison.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said that Avenatti was found guilty for his "blatant abuse of his privilege to practice law" and for "betraying his solemn responsibility" to those he represents.
"As an attorney and fiduciary, Michael Avenatti pledged to advise his clients and act in good faith. As evidenced by his second conviction by this Office in just three years, this time for stealing a book advance from his client, he did just the opposite," Williams said in a statement. "Rather than advise his clients in their best interests, Avenatti instead used his law degree as a license to steal."
The jury had said on Thursday it was deadlocked on the first of two counts but then forged ahead at the urging of judge.
A note sent to U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman on the second day of deliberations said jurors were “unable to come to a consensus” on the first of two counts against Avenatti and asked “What are our next steps?”
Furman — after noting that deliberations had only last about four hours — instructed the jury to keep trying. About three hours later, a second note asked for a transcript of Daniels' entire testimony and a clarification on the legal definition of “good faith.”
Count one is a wire fraud charge. The jury has been instructed to consider a second count, aggravated identity theft, only if it convicts on the first.
Avenatti, who's acting as his own attorney, told reporters the first note was hopeful sign for his defense.
“The case isn’t as clear cut as the government wants everybody to believe,” he said.
During the two-week trial, prosecutors said the California lawyer spun a web of lies to cheat Daniels of nearly $300,000 she was owed for her autobiography, spending it on his firm’s payroll and personal expenses. Avenatti argued in closing arguments that he was acting in good faith, believing he was owed the money and never thinking it was wrong to take it.
Avenatti helped secure the book deal for Daniels in spring 2018, shortly after he began representing her in lawsuits meant to free her from the rules of a 2016 payment of $130,000 she had received from Donald Trump’s personal lawyer to remain silent about an alleged tryst a decade earlier with Trump.
The hush-money payment occurred just days before Trump was elected president. He has denied the claims by Daniels.
Avenatti used his heightened profile at the time to make frequent appearance on cable television news programs.
Daniels, a porn star and stripper who has also earned stage credits in two mainstream movies, testified during the trial that she never authorized Avenatti to pocket some of the $800,000 advance on her autobiography, “Full Disclosure," which was published in the fall of 2018.
The Daniels case was separate from a previous trial, where Avenatti was convicted of trying to extort Nike to the tune of $25 million. In July 2021, he was sentenced to two-and-a-half-years in prison in that case.