SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Incarcerated lawyer Michael Avenatti has pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud and a tax-related charge in a federal court case in Southern California accusing him of cheating his clients out of millions of dollars.
Avenatti made the plea during a court hearing on Thursday in Santa Ana. Prosecutors said the plea subjects Avenatti to as much as 83 years in prison
The 51-year-old lawyer who is representing himself in the California case said earlier this week that although he didn't reach a deal with federal prosecutors he wanted to change his plea to be accountable and spare his family further embarrassment.
Federal prosecutors accused Avenatti of cheating clients out of millions by negotiating and collecting settlement payments on their behalf and funneling the money to accounts that he controlled. He was charged in a 36-count indictment in 2019 of crimes including wire and tax fraud.
A sentencing hearing was tentatively scheduled for Sept. 19, but, if the government decides to try him on any of the remaining counts, that date will likely be vacated so he can be sentenced on all counts after trial. The government said it expects to be able to inform the court of its plans on Monday.
The government estimated that the appropriate amount of restitution to victims affected in the schemes related to the wire fraud counts is $9 million. Avenatti said he believes it is “drastically less” than that. The judge said that would be an issue he would consider for sentencing.
Avenatti is serving five years in prison in a federal facility in California for convictions in two cases in New York.
He was convicted of stealing book proceeds from Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who catapulted him to fame as he represented her in court and cable news programs during her legal battles with then-President Donald Trump. Avenatti was previously convicted of trying to extort Nike if the shoemaker didn’t pay him up to $25 million.
Amy Taxin, The Associated Press