Michael Avenatti charged with stealing almost $300K from Stormy Daniels

The money was from a publisher working with Daniels on a book deal.

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By Tom Winter, Sarah Fitzpatrick, David K. Li and Dareh Gregorian

Federal prosecutors filed additional charges against high-profile attorney Michael Avenatti on Wednesday, claiming the frequent White House critic pocketed almost $300,000 from former client Stormy Daniels.

Daniels was owed money from a book deal and Avenatti allegedly used a "fraudulent document purporting to bear his client’s name and signature to convince his client’s literary agent to divert money owed to Avenatti's client to an account controlled by Avenatti," according to a statement by federal prosecutors.

A senior federal law enforcement official told NBC News that "Victim-1" who was allegedly bilked by Avenatti is Stephanie Clifford, otherwise known by her stage name, Stormy Daniels.

The publisher gave money to Daniels' agent and the former adult film star was supposed to receive two payments of $148,750, according to the indictment. But Avenatti had the money sent to funds he controlled, rather than to his client, according to court papers.

Prosecutors accused Avenatti of spending the money lavishly, including monthly payments on a Ferrari.

“Michael Avenatti abused and violated the core duty of an attorney — the duty to his client," according to a statement by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman.

"As alleged, he used his position of trust to steal an advance on the client’s book deal. As alleged, he blatantly lied to and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari," Berman said. "Far from zealously representing his client, Avenatti, as alleged, instead engaged in outright deception and theft, victimizing rather than advocating for his client.”

The lawyer quickly responded, saying on Twitter: "No monies relating to Ms. Daniels were ever misappropriated or mishandled. She received millions of dollars worth of legal services and we spent huge sums in expenses. She directly paid only $100.00 for all that she received. I look forward to a jury hearing the evidence."

Throughout the summer, fall and winter of 2018, Daniels repeatedly asked Avenatti about the book money she was owed, and the lawyer said he was pressuring the publisher for payments, according to the indictment.

But in reality, the publisher had already paid Daniels' literary agent, who then directed the money to Avenatti — at the lawyer’s unlawful direction, the indictment claimed.

“When is this publisher going to cough up my money,” Daniels asked Avenatti on Dec. 5, 2018.

Avenatti, knowing he had received money from Daniels’ agent, allegedly told his client he would threaten to file a lawsuit against the publisher.

“As for publisher — working them and threatening litigation,” Avenatti responded, according to the indictment. “They need to pay you the money as you did your part and then some.”

Avenatti was hit with two criminal counts regarding Daniels’ book deal, one for wire fraud and the other for aggravated identity theft.

The lawyer eventually paid Daniels the first payment of $148,750 due to her but not the second payment, according to the indictment.

Avenatti had predicted Tuesday night that Berman's office would indict him "in the next 48 hrs charging me in connection with my arrest in March."

"I intend on fighting these bogus/legally baseless allegations, and will plead not guilty to ALL CHARGES. I look forward to the trial where I can begin to clear my name," he tweeted.

Avenatti is known for representing Daniels, who claims she had an affair with President Donald Trump in 2006, long before the real estate executive and reality show host ran for office.

Daniels and Avenatti parted ways in March, and the porn star-turned-author hinted that she believed something was wrong. At the time of the attorney-client split, Daniels said she wanted her new attorney to “review all legal matters” that she’s been previously involved in.

The book's title and publisher were not mentioned in the indictment. Daniels' "Full Disclosure" was released this past October by St. Martin's Press.

Daniels could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

Avenatti was charged in March — and formally indicted Wednesday — for allegedly trying to extort $20 million from Nike and embezzling a client's settlement money to pay expenses for his faltering coffee business.

Avenatti allegedly met with Nike representatives weeks earlier, representing a youth basketball coach who had damaging information alleging that Nike employees made illegal payments to the families of elite high school athletes.

He cannot travel anywhere else in the country without approval and may not transfer $5,000 or more from any account he controls without pretrial services.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, posted this week, Avenatti seemed to acknowledge — via Greek mythology — that his ego might have gotten too big.

“Some would argue at this point that I flew too close to the sun,” he said. “As I sit here today, yes, absolutely, I know I did. No question. Icarus.”