Attorney Michael John Avenatti was born in Sacramento, California on February 16, 1971, and subsequently grew up in Colorado and Utah. In 1982 he moved with his family to Chesterfield, Missouri, and in 1989 he began his college studies at St. Louis University. After a year, Avenatti transferred to the University of Pennsylvania (UP), where he earned a B.A. in political science in 1996. Four years later, he graduated from George Washington University (GWU) Law School.
During his years at UP and GWU, Avenatti worked on opposition research for Rahm Emanuel, who at the time was an aide for President Bill Clinton. At GWU, Avenatti worked with law professor Jonathan Turley, who described Avenatti as “an adrenaline junkie” vis-a-vis his general aggressiveness. Also during his time in law school, Avenatti worked on approximately 150 political campaigns in 42 states, including multiple gubernatorial and congressional campaigns (e.g., one of Joe Biden’s U.S. Senate bids).
After completing his legal studies, Avenatti was hired by the Los Angeles law firm of O’Melveny and Myers. He later worked for Greene, Broillet and Wheeler, another Los Angeles firm.
In 2007 Avenatti established his own California-based law group, Eagan Avenatti LLP, with offices in Newport Beach and San Francisco.
In 2013 Avenatti formed Global Baristas to buy out the bankrupt Tully’s Coffee in Seattle. After that purchase, Global Baristas and Tully’s Coffee became the subjects of many lawsuits involving suspicious business dealings. As the Seattle Times put it in 2018: “Since his investment firm bought bankrupt Tully’s Coffee for $9.15 million at auction five years ago, Avenatti’s company has been named in more than 50 state and federal legal complaints, including commercial lawsuits, breach of lease actions and warrants for unpaid taxes, court records show.”
In 2015 Avenatti won a $76,000 lawsuit against the National Football League, based on complaints by seven ticket-holders to the 2011 Super Bowl game. Five of the plaintiffs claimed that they had been displaced when their preferred seat purchases could not be completed in a timely fashion. The other two sued for fraudulent inducement, claiming that, due to to the location of their seats, their view of the field was obstructed.
In 2017 Avenatti’s firm, Eagan Avenatti LLP, was forced into bankruptcy as a result of a lawsuit brought by Gerald Tobin, a convicted felon and ex-convict who had been employed by Avenatti as an unlicensed private investigator. Tobin’s suit was for $28,000 in unpaid salary. The bankruptcy judge handling the case at that time questioned how such a small sum could possibly force the firm into bankruptcy. But the bankruptcy filing had a larger benefit for Avenatti; it legally freed him from having to testify under oath in another ($18 million) arbitration involving a former partner.
That former partner, Jason Frank, accused Avenatti of non-payment and was awarded a $10 million judgement in 2018 by a Santa Ana, California judge.
In March 2018, an Avenatti client named Stephanie Clifford — better known as the pornographic movie actress “Stormy Daniels” — sued President Donald Trump in an effort to invalidate a non-disclosure agreement that she had signed regarding her alleged past sexual affair with Trump. In April of 2018, Avenatti and Clifford offered a reward of $100,000 for information leading to the identification of a so-called “mystery man” who they claimed had threatened Clifford on Trump’s behalf seven years earlier — in an effort to ensure her permanent silence about the affair.
In May 2018, Avenatti claimed to have evidence of payments made by various parties, including a Russian oligarch, to a bank account belonging to President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Those payments, Avenatti alleged, had been used to process a monetary payment to Daniels in exchange for her consent to the non-disclosure agreement. However, NBC News discovered that at least one of the Michael Cohen accounts identified by Avenatti belonged to a different Michael Cohen — not the former Trump attorney. Also in May 2018, USA Today reported that the Treasury Department had opened an investigation into whether Avenatti had violated the Bank Secrecy Act by gaining access to another person’s bank records. That same month as well, federal judge Kimba Wood told Avenatti that he would have to terminate his “publicity tour” against Cohen if he wanted to represent Clifford in legal actions against Cohen. Avenatti dropped the case and appeared on MSNBC the same day.
In June 2018, the aforementioned Jason Frank filed a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court asking that he be paid up to $10 million from Avenatti’s earnings in other cases including that of Ms. Clifford.
That same month, Avenatti represented a whistleblower who gave MSNBC some video footage which he had secretly shot inside an immigration detention facility near America’s southern border; the whistleblower’s purpose was to demonstrate that the conditions in such facilities, where the Trump administration was holding illegal border-crossers, were substandard.
In July 2018, Avenatti tweeted that he “will run” for president in 2020 if Donald Trump were to seek re-election at that time.
In September 2018, as the Senate hearing on President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was in progress, Avenatti came forward representing 55-year-old Julie Swetnick, who accused Kavanaugh of having been part of a group of young men who allegedly had drugged and gang-raped her during the time they were both in high school. But Swetnick’s story fell apart soon thereafter. Thus, on October 25, 2018, the Senate Judiciary issued the following statement: “Swetnick made her allegations in a sworn statement to the committee on September 26. In an October 1 interview with NBC News, however, Swetnick specifically and explicitly back-tracked or contradicted key parts of her sworn statement on these and other allegations. In subsequent interviews, Avenatti likewise cast serious doubt on or contradicted the allegations while insisting that he had thoroughly vetted his client.” As a result of Swetnick’s suspected mendacity, the Committee referred both her and Avenatti “to the Justice Department for criminal investigation relating to a potential conspiracy to provide materially false statements to Congress and obstruct a congressional committee investigation, three separate crimes, in the course of considering Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
On November 13, 2018, Los Angeles Police Department officers arrested Avenatti on suspicion of domestic violence. TMZ, which first reported the story, said that Avenatti had “kicked” an unidentified woman “out of the apartment,” leaving her face “swollen and bruised.” Avenatti’s bail was set at $50,000.
A few days later, Avenatti’s law firm was evicted from its office in Newport Beach for non-payment of $213,000 in rent over the course of several months.
In January 2019, a former client named Gregory Barela filed arbitration against Avenatti, alleging misuse of funds that Eagan Avenatti LLP had received in trust after helping the client secure a settlement. Specifically, Barela claimed that Avenatti had secretly pocketed the settlement funds and then had attempted to lend some of the money back to Barela at a 10 percent interest rate. “Avenatti was operating his law firm in a Ponzi scheme like manner,” Barella’s claim said, “taking settlement proceeds received for clients to pay off debts, pay the other individual Defendants’ salaries and bonuses, and fund his lavish lifestyle, while telling clients that the settlement proceeds had not been received or would be received at a later date.”
On March 25, 2019 in New York City, Avenatti was arrested and charged with attempting to extort up to $25 million from the athletic apparel and shoe company Nike by threatening to publicly allege that Nike had improperly made payments to the families of certain high-school basketball players. Avenatti was released on $300,000 bond that evening.
That same day, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California announced in Los Angeles the filing of a 197-page complaint accusing Avenatti of wire fraud and bank fraud. The indictment said that Avenatti had embezzled money from a client and had defrauded a Mississippi bank by submitting false tax returns to obtain more than $4 million in loans. Prosecutors also claimed that Avenatti had failed to file personal tax returns for the years in question.
On April 10, 2019, a federal grand jury in Santa Ana, California charged Avenatti with embezzling funds that one of his clients, NBA player Hassan Whiteside, had wired to him in January 2017 for the purpose of paying a settlement to his ex-girlfriend. According to the charges, Avenatti had used most of the $1.75 million settlement money — along with his included $1 million fee for legal services — to invest $2.5 million in a share of a private jet. He was further accused of misrepresenting Whiteside’s settlement payment as one that would need to be doled out to the recipient in a series of comparatively small monthly installments, rather than all at once.
On April 11, 2019, 36 additional financial crime charges against Avenatti — including embezzlement, wire fraud, tax evasion, bankruptcy fraud and bank fraud — were announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. According to the U.S. Attorney: “Money generated from one set of crimes was used to further other crimes, typically in the form of payments designed to string along victims” and “to prevent Mr. Avenatti’s financial house of cards from collapsing.”
On May 22, 2019, Avenatti was charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft as a result of allegations that he had stolen approximately $300,000 from former client Stormy Daniels’ advance for a 2018 book contract that he had helped Daniels negotiate. Avenatti pleaded not guilty and was released on a $300,000 bail bond, on conditions that he notify authorities of any travel plans and that he have no contact with Daniels.
On June 3, 2019, the California State Bar filed a 573-page petition to enroll Avenatti in involuntary inactive status pending the outcomes of the many cases against him.
Avenatti was again arrested on January 14, 2020 during a recess in a court hearing regarding his disbarment, for having violated the terms of a previous release.
On February 14, 2020, Avenatti was found guilty on all three counts related to his attempted extortion of Nike, a conviction that potentially carried a penalty of up to 47 years in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for June 17, 2020.
Further Reading: “Michael Avenatti” (Avenatti.com/bio).
- Michael Avenatti Is Hit with 36 Counts of Fraud … and Now Faces 335 Years in Prison
By Jennifer Smith
April 11, 2019