Michael Avenatti charged with 36 counts of fraud and tax offenses

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A California federal grand jury indicted Michael Avenatti, a celebrity lawyer, with 36 counts of fraud and tax offenses on Wednesday.

The indictment comes after federal prosecutors New York arrested and charged him last month for allegedly attempting to extort Nike. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles also arrested and charged him with separate criminal complaints.

Allegations against Avenatti

Based on the indictment, Avenatti allegedly stole millions of dollars from clients including a paraplegic. He is facing 10 counts of wire fraud involving more than $12 million he received as settlement payments for his clients in four cases. He allegedly lied to the clients about receiving the money and misappropriated the money. In one of the cases, he falsely claimed that the money was already sent to the client.

Additionally, Avenatti is facing 19 counts of tax-related offenses. He allegedly stole millions of dollars of employment taxes that his coffee company, Global Baristas LLC (GBUS) should have paid to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Starting 2015 until 2017, GBUS failed to pay around $3.2 million in federal payroll taxes including at least $2.3 million in trust fund taxes. GBUS collected the trust fund taxes from its employees’ paychecks. IRS initiated a collection action by filing a federal tax lien against GBUS. Avenatti allegedly tried to block the agency’s efforts to collect the taxes.

Furthermore, Avenatti is facing two counts of bank fraud. He allegedly submitted fraudulent loan applications that included tax returns not with the IRS.

Moreover, he is facing four counts of bankruptcy fraud charges for allegedly concealing his law firm’s assets from the Bankruptcy Court.

Avenatti says he is “not guilty”

In a statement, Acting U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said the celebrity lawyers’ criminal conducts are linked together. He noted that the “money generated from one set if crimes appear in other sets—typically in the form of payments to lull victims and to prevent Mr. Avenatti’s financial house of cards from collapsing.”

On the other hand, Acting Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner with IRS Criminal Investigation in Los Angeles, commented, “Individuals who intentionally thwart the IRS and fail to meet their tax obligations will be caught and they will be held accountable.”

In a tweet, Avenatti said he will “fight all charges” against him and will “plead not guilty.”  He added that he is “entitled to a full presumption of innocence.”