Avenatti Victims Bash His Fox News and MSNBC Enablers

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

While Donald Trump stands trial over his hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, Fox News and other outlets are giving her disgraced former lawyer Michael Avenatti—incarcerated for stealing millions from his own clients—loads of free airtime.

But victims of the fallen Newport Beach litigator aren’t happy he’s back in the spotlight.

“He’s a crook, he’s a criminal, and he doesn’t deserve it,” said Greg Barela, a former client who testified against Avenatti in a federal fraud case in California.

Avenatti became famous in 2018 for representing Daniels in her litigation against Trump and his former fixer Michael Cohen, but his high-flying lifestyle—with a private jet, multimillion-dollar home, art collection and exotic vacations—would soon catch up with him.

In 2022, Avenatti received a 14-year sentence for embezzling millions from his clients’ settlement checks. His victims include a paraplegic man named Geoffrey Johnson, who’d won a $4 million payout after being seriously injured in a Los Angeles jail, and makeup guru Michelle Phan, from whom Avenatti swiped another $4 million after negotiating the sale of stock in a company she founded.

Stormy Daniels’ Disgraced Ex-Lawyer Trashes Trump Case in Jailhouse MSNBC Interview

As for Barela, Avenatti snatched $1.6 million of his $1.9 million settlement in a patent litigation suit, secretly using the money to foot his own legal expenses and bills for his coffee company, Global Baristas, which operated the now-defunct Tully’s chain.

Avenatti was also convicted in two other cases in New York: for stealing $300,000 of Daniels’ book advance to make payments on a Ferrari and for trying to extort Nike for up to $25 million. (The 53-year-old is serving a total of 19 years behind bars.)

Once hailed a liberal hero for brawling with Trump and even floating a 2020 presidential run, Avenatti is now positioning himself as a legal expert on the GOP frontrunner’s criminal case, calling Trump a “victim of the system” and claiming he’ll testify against Daniels if asked.

Trump is in the middle of a New York criminal trial, accused of falsifying business records to pay off Daniels and stop her from coming forward before the 2016 election about their alleged romp a decade earlier. (The former president denies any wrongdoing or bedding Daniels.)

Photograph of Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti on the set of TV show The View.

Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti appear together on ABC’s The View in 2018.

Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Disney via Getty

Barela believes Avenatti has at least one motive to grovel to The Donald.

“I really do think he’s going to try and get a pardon,” Barela, who once accused Avenatti of running his law firm like a “Ponzi scheme,” told The Daily Beast. “It’s like hedging his bet. That’s my gut, and I know him so well. He’s predictable.”

Barela mocked Avenatti’s recent MSNBC interview where he vowed to make a comeback.

“For all of us that are listening right now to his last jail interview—‘You know that I’m still standing and I’m here and I’m gonna come out stronger’—you’re just such an idiot. You’re a crook, and you’re gonna die in jail most likely.”

“They’re bringing him back,” Barela added of the media airing Avenatti. “And it’s just putting salt in my wound. It doesn’t feel good.”

“He doesn’t have any credibility.”

A federal defender representing Avenatti didn’t return messages seeking comment.

On Monday, Fox News Digital ran another interview with Avenatti focused on whether he’ll support president Joe Biden in the 2024 election. Never mind that the legal beagle is ineligible to vote from a federal penitentiary. “Frankly, I’m on the fence,” said Avenatti, who then aired his opinions on Biden’s handling of the economy and border crisis.

This follows Avenatti’s string of talks with Fox, MSNBC, and the New York Post.

While Johnson couldn’t be reached, his lawyer Raphael Cung told The Daily Beast that “it’s a little strange” that news organizations are “spinning [Avenatti] in a somewhat sympathetic light.”

“He clearly defrauded clients of his—not just Geoff, but other clients—clients who really trusted him and clients whose lives were changed drastically for the worse,” Cung added of Avenatti, whose law license has been suspended.

Johnson, Cung continued, “views the world and he views people in a much different way” after getting conned by his own lawyer. “He’s lost trust in other people and it’s just a devastating thing, so the fact that Avenatti is getting any sort of platform is pretty outrageous.”

Avenatti represented Johnson after he was arrested in 2011 during a mental health episode and attempted suicide while in jail, resulting in his injuries.

In 2015, Avenatti secured a $4 million settlement against L.A. County on Johnson’s behalf but never informed him. Instead, Avenatti claimed the county refused to pay, and he secretly transferred the funds to his car-racing team and other personal expenses. Within months, prosecutors said, Avenatti had spent a “substantial” sum of Johnson’s money.

Avenatti made 69 payments to Johnson over the years totaling about $124,000, the feds added, and also paid rent to Johnson’s assisted living facilities. The lawyer “falsely represented” to Johnson that these rent payments were “advances” on a pending payout from the county, an indictment stated.

Johnson told Avenatti that he dreamed of buying a home accessible for people with disabilities and even met with a realtor to make this a reality. But Avenatti continued to lie and deny him his settlement. At one point Avenatti failed to pay Johnson’s rent, resulting in a care center suing him, though Johnson wasn’t aware of the complaint.

“Next to the incident that caused me to become paralyzed, meeting Michael and having him steal my money is the worst thing that has happened to me,” Johnson said in a statement at Avenatti’s sentencing.

Avenatti’s press appearances arrive as some victims await news on whether they’ll receive restitution at all. After Avenatti pleaded guilty, U.S. District Judge James Selna ordered him to pay more than $7.6 million to his victims.

Ciaran McEvoy, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, told The Daily Beast that Phan received $1.5 million from the IRS that was traced to funds Avenatti siphoned from her and paid to the agency, and that proceeds from Avenatti’s recently sold Honda jet have been deposited with the court to determine distribution.

How Fox News Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Michael Avenatti

In an April 16 status report filed with the court, the feds said Avenatti’s aircraft sold for more than $2.7 million and incurred $240,000 in fees for storage, maintenance, and other costs, leaving about $2.5 million for restitution.

McEvoy added the funds will likely result in a payment to Avenatti’s former client Alexis Gardner, but any disbursements await Selna’s order.

Gardner, who at sentencing called Avenatti “a psychotic conman who fights only for himself,” had hired him to represent her in a claim against her former boyfriend, NBA player Hassan Whiteside. He’d negotiated a $3 million settlement in 2017 and quickly pocketed $2.5 million of it to buy a private jet through his company Passport 420.

Similar to his tack with Johnson, Avenatti told Gardner she’d receive her money in installments and even claimed Whiteside had missed some of them. Avenatti ultimately paid her about $227,500 across 12 different payments.

In a sentencing memorandum, Selna noted that “Gardner was homeless and living in her car” and “was able to lease a place when Avenatti remitted some funds, but was again homeless when he cut off payments.”

“Barela incurred charges for his new business when Avenatti told him settlement funds would be coming shortly,” Selna continued. “When Avenatti failed to make any payments, Barela could not pay those charges or his own rent or living expenses.”

“Johnson, a quadriplegic in poor health, was relying on his settlement to pay living and medical expenses. When Avenatti cut off the small payments he was making, Johnson was forced to rely on Social Security benefits, and lost the opportunity to purchase a house.”

“Avenatti has done many noble and good things in his life,” Selna concluded, “some reflected in this case. But he has also done great evil for which he must answer.”

Avenatti’s crimes, however, haven’t deterred the media from broadcasting his views.

He phoned into Fox host Sean Hannity’s show last week to defend Trump over his pending criminal prosecutions. “This is an effort to deprive millions of Americans of their choice for president,” Avenatti told Hannity. “This guy has been indicted now in four cases up and down the entire East Coast. Sean, in this country, we don’t have serial killers who are prosecuted at the same time in four different cases.”

Days earlier, Avenatti told Fox of Trump, “I certainly see him as a victim of the system. And that’s something that I never thought I would say.”

All this despite Fox’s former golden child Tucker Carlson gleefully dubbing Avenatti a “creepy porn lawyer” after the lawyer catapulted onto the scene in 2018.

Meanwhile, Avenatti told the New York Post he’s in contact with Trump’s counsel and is “more than happy to testify.” He then railed against the client who occasioned his short-lived celebrity.

“Stormy Daniels is going to say whatever she believes is going to assist Stormy Daniels and putting more money in her pocket,” Avenatti fumed. “If Stormy Daniels’ lips are moving, she’s lying for money.”

Avenatti has also recently appeared on MSNBC, where he was a regular years ago as the Trump-Daniels scandal dominated the news cycle.

Host Ari Melber began by asking Avenatti how he was “holding up” in prison.

“As Elton John once wrote, I’m still standing, Ari. I’m doing fine,” Avenatti replied. “And to those who were hoping that perhaps the last few years would ultimately destroy me, I’ve got some bad news for ’em, and that is that it hasn’t. I’m going to come out of this better and stronger than ever.”

Photograph of Michael Avenatti.

Michael Avenatti in 2019 outside a federal courthouse in New York City.

Alec Tabak/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty

Throughout the 16-minute segment, Avenatti opined on Trump’s trial and trashed Daniels, falsely claiming he fired her as a client for lying about extorting Trump in 2016. (Daniels testified in court that she ditched Avenatti after discovering he had embezzled her book money by forging her signature on a letter to her literary agent.)

Before closing the Avenatti bit, Melber asked the prisoner, “Why should people take your word on any of this tonight?”

He replied in part, “I think people need to ask themselves, are you really going to define somebody by the worst thing they did in their life, or are you going to look at the totality of the body of their work?”

Cung, Johnson’s lawyer, said of Avenatti: “It doesn’t really count when you get a client a great result and you take every penny of it and then worse, you lead him on for four or five years after that.”

After interviewing Avenatti, Melber brought reporter Margaret Carlson on the show to rebut his remarks. She pointed out the inmate likely wouldn’t be called as a witness at Trump’s trial because “he’s a fraud and a liar and a cheat.”

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