On Thursday, former lawyer and media icon Michael Avenatti pleaded guilty to a tax charge, as well as four counts of wire fraud, in a case out of Southern California where he was accused of scamming his clients out of millions of dollars.
Prosecutors have said Avenatti’s plea means he could spend up to 83 years in jail.
Avenatti is currently serving out a five-year sentence in California after he was convicted in New York in two cases. He is representing himself in the California case and stated earlier this week that he desired to switch his plea in order to keep his family from being embarrassed more than they have been, though he didn’t come to a deal with federal prosecutors.
The prosecutors alleged that Avenatti cheated his clients out of vast sums of money by garnering settlement funds on their behalf and channeling the funds to accounts handled by him. In 2019, he was charged with a 36-count indictment of crimes involving tax and wire fraud.
He was originally set to be sentenced at a hearing on September 19, but if federal prosecutors end up taking him to trial on the leftover counts, he will likely be sentenced at another date on all of the counts post-trial. The government stated that it is anticipating letting the court know what it plans to do on Monday.
For scams related to the wire fraud counts, the federal government estimated that the correct amount of restitution to the victims is $9 million, but Avenatti argued it is “drastically less” than that amount.
“Avenatti was scheduled to stand trial on some of the California counts in July, with a trial on the rest to follow,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Prosecutors have said that the disgraced lawyer garnered millions of dollars in payments from clients and utilized the funds to pay for a private jet and other expensive lifestyle choices.
In one instance, Avenatti got “$4 million from Los Angeles County for a man who suffered in-custody injuries and was left paraplegic after a suicide attempt,” per the Times. However, Avenatti said he never got the settlement and instead paid the man in smaller increments between $1,000 to $1,900, which he said were advances on the larger amount.
Avenatti is currently not allowed to practice law in California. He became famous after representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels and appearing on the news media speaking out against former President Donald Trump. He was sentenced to four years in jail for stealing money Daniels made off of her book.
During the Daniels trial, Avenatti said the money was spent “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,” according to NBC-4 New York.