A Manhattan federal judge on Tuesday expressed doubt over Michael Avenatti’s claims that he’s being prosecuted as a form of payback from the Trump administration before setting an April 21 trial date for the embattled attorney to face charges that he stole $300,000 from his former client Stormy Daniels.
Avenatti, 48, gained national notoriety for representing Daniels, a porn star who claimed to have had an affair with Trump in 2006. Avenatti voiced his outspoken criticism of the president in frequent cable television appearances and took on one of Brett Kavanaugh’s later accusers as a client before eventually being arrested in March in New York.
Manhattan federal prosecutors charged Avenatti with stealing nearly $300,000 from Daniels while working as her attorney to help her secure a book deal, Reuters reported. During a brief hearing Tuesday, Avenatti’s lawyer, Dean Steward, said he’s considering filing a motion to dismiss the case, asserting that prosecutors were motivated by the “vindictiveness” of the Trump administraion.
U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts said the Southern District of New York, which is prosecuting the case, “is not known for being vindictive.”
“Quite frankly, I’m not going to go head-to-head with Donald Trump in this case,” Batts continued, according to the New York Daily News.
Avenatti allegedly forged Daniels’ signature in a letter directing her literary agent to send an installment of $148,750 from an $800,000 book advance to Avenatti's own bank account. Prosecutors claim Avenatti eventually repaid the money to Daniels but when she asked about the second installment of the same amount, he falsely told her the publisher still owed him the payment and that he was still working on obtaining the money, according to Reuters.
He faces a separate federal case in New York on charges he tried to extort sports apparel firm Nike Inc. for more than $20 million, the New York Daily News reported. That trial was scheduled for November, but he asked that it be postponed until January. Avenatti is scheduled to stand federal trial May 19 in Los Angeles to face charges he sole millions from clients to fund personal and business expenses and lied to the IRS and a Mississippi bank about his financial history, Reuters reported.
Daniels has claimed she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and received payments from Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to keep quiet about it during the 2016 presidential election. Cohen is now serving a three-year sentence for campaign finance violations, tax evasion and other charges.