Before he gained media attention for representing an X-rated film star in a lawsuit against the president of the United States, attorney Michael Avenatti spent a lot of time working for a company that plans to build an indoor cannabis farm and processing plant in the California desert.
In fact, in much of 2017 it was not unusual for Avenatti to write emails and attend public meetings on behalf of Desert Harvest Development LLC, which expects to employ more than 500 people and generate more than $14 million in tax revenue for the city of Desert Hot Springs, if the plan is approved, the Desert Sun reported.
So in early 2018, when the same Avenatti began making regular appearances on cable TV, arguing on behalf of Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, many people in the small city were surprised.
“It was a little bit of a shocker when we saw him on the national news,” Doria Wilms, a Desert Hot Springs city spokeswoman, told the Desert Sun. “But it didn’t take away from the fact that he is one of many projects here in the city, and we want his project to be developed just like we want everybody else’s.”
But although Desert Harvest’s plans received city approval in November 2017, the company has not yet purchased the 65-acre parcel of land it eyed for the complex, the newspaper reported.
It added that Avenatti wrote in an email that the company intends to purchase the land soon and still intends to proceed with the venture.
Meanwhile, Fox News previously reported that Avenatti’s personal business dealings have come under scrutiny in recent months. Fox News confirmed in May that Avenatti was under investigation by the California State Bar over allegations related to his stewardship of the bankrupt Tully’s Coffee chain. The ownership group, Global Baristas LLC faced a lien for unpaid federal taxes worth approximately $5 million.
Avenatti has also claimed that the tax lien in question "is related to an entity that was owned by another company that I used to have an interest in." He told Fox News, "At no point in time was I ever responsible for any taxes for Global Baristas US LLC, nor was I ever a member of that entity, nor did I own any direct interest in that entity."
Court records detail Avenatti’s extravagant lifestyle, with monthly expenses running to about $40,000. He’s a noted collector of watches and artwork, uses a private jet to travel, and leases expensive cars, his wife claimed in case documents. Lisa Storie-Avenatti has suggested he was avoiding their divorce proceedings.
Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this story.