(NEW YORK) -- A federal prosecutor on Monday called Michael Avenatti “a lawyer who stole from his client” and promised jurors “you’re going to follow the money” at the opening of Avenatti’s trial in Manhattan federal court.
Avenatti, seated at the defense table in a mask and dark suit, is charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for forging the signature of his most well-known client, the adult film actress Stormy Daniels, and steering $300,000 she was owed by a book publisher into an account he controlled.
“The defendant betrayed the victim, stole her money and lied to cover it up,” the prosecutor, Andrew Rohrbach, said during his opening statement.
Avenatti has pleaded not guilty and his attorney said there was no theft.
“Mr. Avenatti didn’t steal Storm Daniels money,” defense attorney Andrew Dalak said, instead casting the matter as a “disagreement” or fee dispute.
“This disagreement has no business in federal criminal court,” Dalak said in his opening statement.
Daniels was supposed to be paid $800,000 in four installments for writing her autobiography, including details of her long-denied affair with former President Donald Trump. The prosecution said Avenatti stole two of those payments because he was having personal financial problems and his law firm was having trouble making payroll and paying for office space.
“There was no agreement for the defendant to get any piece of Ms. Daniels’ book money,” Rohrbach said. “She didn’t know her lawyer had stolen her money.”
The defense has suggested it might question the credibility of Daniels, who Dalak called an “obscure adult entertainer” before she received a hush payment from Trump and sued to get released from a nondisclosure agreement. The defense will also be allowed to question Daniels about her beliefs in the paranormal related to her “Spooky Babes” television show in which she explores paranormal activity.
Anticipating the line of questioning, Rohrbach said actresses in adult films and paranormal investigators “can be victims of fraud and identity theft too.”
The government’s first witness is Lucas Janklow, Daniels’ literary agent, who testified he first knew Avenatti by reputation as “a folk hero” who was “very aggressive and very effective at fighting for the 70 million people who didn’t vote” for Trump.
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