Avenatti makes first appearance in California embezzlement, fraud case

Avenatti makes first appearance in California embezzlement, fraud case
Avenatti makes first appearance in California embezzlement, fraud case

By Dana Feldman

SANTA ANA, Calif. (Reuters) - Attorney Michael Avenatti arrived at U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California, on Monday for an initial appearance on fraud and embezzlement charges. He said nothing to reporters.

Best known for representing pornographic film star Stormy Daniels in her legal battles with U.S. President Donald , Avenatti, 48, was expected to face a detention hearing on charges of misusing a client's monetary court settlement.

He is charged in a separate U.S. District Court indictment in New York with what prosecutors said was an attempt to "shake down" Nike Inc for more than $20 million..

He was released on $300,000 bond in the New York case and has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence of all charges.

Avenatti became a public figure and frequent cable TV guest while representing Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in a lawsuit against over a nondisclosure agreement that in the weeks before the 2016 U.S. presidential election kept her from discussing a 2006 sexual relationship she said they had.

Avenatti also became involved in the investigation of sexual abuse charges against R&B singer R. Kelly after giving the Chicago state’s attorney’s office what he said was a tape of the performer having sex with an underage girl.

Federal charging documents in Santa Ana accuse Avenatti of using his client's $1.6 million settlement for his own purposes, including paying $216,000 to Neiman Marcus, $68,500 at a luxury watch store, almost half a million dollars to pay a home mortgage, and thousands of dollars for a Porsche.

The charges also accuse him of fraudulently obtaining $4 million in bank loans from a Mississippi bank.

Avenatti faces up to 30 years in prison on the most serious charge in California and up to 20 years for the top charge in New York.

In New York, prosecutors said Avenatti and a co-conspirator, whom they did not name, met Nike's attorneys on March 19 and told them they represented a former college basketball coach with information about Nike's involvement in a scheme to bribe high school basketball players.

They threatened to go public unless Nike hired Avenatti to conduct an internal investigation for $15 million to $25 million, and paid an additional $1.5 million to the client, according to prosecutors.

Avenatti also offered to accept a $22.5 million payment for his silence, prosecutors said.

(Reporting by Dana Feldman in Santa Ana, California; Writing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Howard Goller)

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