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Avenatti Is in Much Hotter Water Now

Indictment accuses him of stealing millions from clients, including a mentally ill paraplegic
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 11, 2019 11:50 AM CDT
In this April 1, 2019 file photo, attorney Michael Avenatti arrives at federal court in Santa Ana, Calif.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(Newser) – High-profile attorney Michael Avenatti was already in hot water before this week, accused of trying to extort money from Nike. But on Thursday, his problems became much, much worse. A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted him on 36 counts—separate from the Nike investigation in New York—that accuse him of stealing from clients and committing tax crimes and perjury, among other things, reports CNBC. How bad is it? If convicted on all counts, Avenatti could go to jail for 335 years, reports the Los Angeles Times. Avenatti denies all: "I look forward to the entire truth being known as opposed to a one-sided version meant to sideline me," he said, per the AP. One allegation in particular is getting attention—one in which prosecutors say Avenatti ripped off a client who was a mentally ill paraplegic receiving disability payments.

In that case, Avenatti negotiated a $4 million settlement in 2015 on behalf of Geoffrey Johnson, who became paralyzed while in the Los Angeles County jail. However, prosecutors say Avenatti has kept the vast majority of the money, with Johnson receiving just $124,000 so far. Worse, Johnson saw his Social Security payments cut off last year because Avenatti failed to respond to the SSA's request for information, fearful his embezzlement scheme would be revealed, says the indictment. US attorney Nick Hanna says Avenatti's ruses were connected. Hanna alleges that Avenatti would steal from one client and use the money to "string along" other clients to whom he owed money, all to keep his “financial house of cards from collapsing." (Read more Michael Avenatti stories.)

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