Michael Avenatti was found guilty Friday in the disgraced celebrity lawyer’s trial on federal charges related to the theft of nearly $300,000 in book proceeds from his former client, porn actress Stormy Daniels.
Avenatti — already on the precipice of a 30-month prison sentence after being found guilty in his Nike extortion trial — was charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for funneling the proceeds of Daniels’ memoir Full Disclosure into his own money-hemorrhaging law firm. He was convicted on both counts, and faces up to 22 years in prison upon sentencing.
“She thought he was her advocate. But he betrayed her, and he told lies to try to cover it all up,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman told jurors during closing argument. “The defendant got tangled in his own web of lies. He got caught.”
While Avenatti employed his own legal team, on the second day of the trial, he made the unorthodox decision to cross-examine trial witnesses, including his former office manager, a fellow lawyer who managed to upstage Avenatti on the stand and Daniels herself.
At one point with Daniels on the stand, Avenatti turned her testimony into an impromptu advertisement for her yet-to-be-aired paranormal show Spooky Babes, with Daniels — per Avenatti’s questioning — going into detail about her own experiences with haunted dolls, ghosts, and a “dark entity” that emerged from a “portal” in her New Orleans home. (The line of questioning was an effort to undermine Daniels’ credibility, and not to promote Spooky Babes show.)
As Avenatti summarized the prosecutors’ case against him to the jury during closing arguments, “I’m Italian. I like Italian food…The case that the government is attempting to feed you has a giant cockroach in the middle of the plate. Would you eat that dish, or would you send it back? I submit that you would send it back.”
Despite Avenatti’s grandstanding during the trial, the lawyer ultimately opted not to take the stand in his own defense, even though he hinted he would earlier in the trial.
However, after just hours of deliberations, the jury informed the judge presiding over the trial that they were deadlocked on the wire fraud charge; U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman implored the jury to work toward a verdict. According to the Miami Herald, Avenatti told reporters after the jury initially came back deadlocked, “The case isn’t as clear cut as the government wants everybody to believe.”
On Friday, the jury deadlock became more serious when a foreman informed Furman that while 11 of the jurors had decided on a verdict, one juror refused to even deliberate or review evidence. “She does not believe she needs to prove her side using evidence and refuses to show us how she has come to her conclusion,” the foreman told Furman (via New York Daily News). The judge demanded that the jury continue deliberating, and the guilty verdict arrived hours later.