Michael Avenatti insists he took 'reasonable percentage' of money owed from Stormy Daniels book deal
If convicted in the fraud trial, Avenatti could face up to 22 years in prison
Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti insisted in closing arguments for his fraud trial on Wednesday that he was entitled to a "reasonable percentage" of proceeds after being "instrumental" in securing and finalizing the book deal for adult film actress Stormy Daniels' autobiography, "Full Disclosure."
Prosecutors say Avenatti pocketed nearly $300,000 from Daniels' $800,000 advance in 2018 by using a fake document to make it appear as though Daniels approved of her book proceeds going into a bank account Avenatti controlled. They say he did that even though his contract with Daniels called for him to receive only $100 for his work on her behalf.
MICHAEL AVENATTI TRIAL: DISGRACED ATTORNEY RESTS CASE WITHOUT TESTIFYING, CALLING ANY WITNESSES TO STAND
Daniels and Avenatti were a team in 2018 as he represented her in lawsuits against former President Donald Trump. She hired him in her bid to speak publicly about claims of a tryst with Trump a decade earlier, despite being paid $130,000 shortly before the 2016 presidential election to remain silent.
Avenatti told jurors Wednesday that he and his firm had spent millions of dollars "to the benefit of Ms. Daniels" and that there is insufficient evidence of fraud.
"I was her advocate, I was her champion. I put everything on the line. I wanted to help her," Avenatti, who is representing himself, argued Wednesday. "According to the government, Michael Avenatti could never have believed that he had the right to be paid. That is ludicrous, and it is not supported by the evidence."
He also claimed that the jury must acquit if they conclude he had a "good faith" belief that he was entitled to be paid from the book's proceeds.
"If the defendant in good faith believed he was entitled to take the money or property from the victim – even if that belief was mistaken – then you must find him not guilty," Avenatti said. "A good faith belief, ladies and gentlemen, is a complete defense to all of these charges. It’s game over for the government."
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Though Avenatti claims Daniels was "not credible," citing testimony that she has a doll that called her "mommy," sees dead people and can see inside a house from the outside, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman pointed to a "mountain of evidence," including text messages and bank statements, that he says show Avenatti "got tangled in his own web of lies."
"The defendant was a lawyer who stole from his own client. She thought that he was her own advocate, but he betrayed her, and he told lies to try to cover it all up," Sobelman said. "The defendant's lies and betrayal were exposed."
In addition to the charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, Avenatti was charged in New York in early 2019 with attempting to extort up to $25 million from Nike with threats that he would otherwise spoil the apparel maker's reputation. He was charged the same day in Los Angeles with ripping off clients for millions of dollars. Weeks later, he was charged with stealing from Daniels. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Avenatti, 50, has already been sentenced to two and a half years in prison in the Nike case. The Los Angeles case resulted in a mistrial last year as Avenatti represented himself. If convicted in the fraud trial, Avenatti could face up to 22 years in prison.
Fox Business' Marta Dhani and The Associated Press contributed to this report