Top Stories
Top Stories

UPDATE 2-Trump foe Avenatti pleads not guilty to ripping off Stormy Daniels

Brendan Pierson

(Adds details from hearing following plea)

NEW YORK, May 28 (Reuters) - Lawyer Michael Avenatti pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges that he stole from porn star Stormy Daniels, the client who propelled him to fame as an outspoken adversary of U.S. President Donald Trump.

An attorney for Avenatti, public defender Sylvie Levine, entered the plea to charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft before U.S. Magistrate Judge James Cott in Manhattan. Cott ordered Avenatti released on a $300,000 bail bond, on condition that he notify authorities of any travel plans and have no contact with Daniels.

In an indictment made public last Wednesday, prosecutors in Manhattan accused Avenatti, 48, of stealing about $300,000 from Daniels to fund an extravagant lifestyle, including a Ferrari automobile, after helping her secure a book contract. The new charges came on top of two separate criminal cases Avenatti already faced.

The plea was followed by a brief hearing before U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, who has been assigned to oversee the case for trial. Avenatti said at the hearing that he planned to retain a private lawyer.

"I just have not had an opportunity to finalize that arrangement yet," he said. After the hearing, Avenatti declined to comment on the case.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 from Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen shortly before the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about an affair she said she had with Trump in 2006. The president has denied having had sex with Daniels.

Avenatti represented Daniels in lawsuits related to the hush money and later in negotiating a book deal.

Daniels' book "Full Disclosure" was published in October.

Prosecutors said Avenatti diverted two $148,750 installment payments from Daniels' $800,000 book advance by forging her signature in a letter to her literary agent and directing that the money be sent to his bank account.

Prosecutors said Avenatti eventually paid $148,750 to Daniels after obtaining the money from another source, but lied when she asked where the second payment was. Avenatti told Daniels the publisher "owes me a payment" and that he was "on it," prosecutors said.

Daniels has not received that payment, prosecutors said. She dropped Avenatti as her lawyer earlier this year.

Avenatti was arrested in March and charged by prosecutors in Manhattan with trying to extort more than $20 million from Nike Inc by threatening to expose what he called its improper payments to recruits for college basketball teams it sponsored. He is expected to be arraigned on those charges in federal court in Manhattan later on Tuesday.

Nike has denied wrongdoing, and helped prosecutors before Avenatti's arrest.

At the same time, Avenatti was charged by prosecutors in Los Angeles with stealing millions of dollars from clients to pay for personal and business expenses and lying to the Internal Revenue Service and a Mississippi bank about his finances. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Before his arrest, Avenatti was a fixture on cable news channels as an outspoken critic of Trump, and briefly toyed with running for president in 2020.

Michael Cohen is about three weeks into a three-year prison term after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations related to the hush money payment to Daniels and other financial crimes. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)