Michael Avenatti, the attorney who rose to prominence for lawsuits against President Donald Trump over a hush-money deal, was rearrested by IRS agents Tuesday evening for alleged bail violations just days before the start of his upcoming federal trial, a Justice Department official told The Washington Post.
Avenatti, who is accused of extorting Nike for up to $25 million and stealing millions of dollars from his clients for his own interests among other charges, was arrested while appearing before the State Bar Court in Los Angeles, in the middle of a disciplinary hearing alleging that he stole about $840,000 from a former client.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, confirmed to The Post that Avenatti was arrested by IRS agents on an “allegation of violating the terms of his pretrial release.” He added that Avenatti is expected to appear in federal court in Santa Ana, California, on Wednesday.
“The documents are under seal, so I cannot provide details on the allegations at this moment,” Mrozek said.
In a one-page letter sent on Tuesday to Judge Paul G. Gardephe of the Southern District of New York, federal prosecutors in Manhattan wrote that they were informed by counterparts in Los Angeles that an arrest warrant had been issued and that Avenatti would soon be arrested. The Daily Beast reported that Avenatti was taken into custody during a break in testimony at the State Bar Court.
Walking out of the courthouse on Tuesday at around 6 p.m., the embattled attorney, known for his antagonism toward the president, only had a couple words to offer, the Daily Beast reported.
“Completely innocent,” Avenatti said.
Steven E. Bledsoe, a Los Angeles lawyer representing Gregory Barela, the man who claims Avenatti stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from his lawsuit settlement, told The Post that Avenatti was “digging himself an even bigger hole on the witness stand” in the State Bar proceeding before his sudden arrest.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Avenatti’s arrest will delay the State Bar disciplinary proceedings, but it appears that losing his law license will be among the least of his worries,” Bledsoe said.
H. Dean Steward, a California attorney representing Avenatti in two of his cases, said to NBC News it was his understanding that his client’s arrest on Tuesday “has something to do with a bail violation.”
“Exactly what the details are I don’t know,” Steward said. “But I’m almost positive it has something to do with finances.”
Avenatti’s financial condition, including his expensive spending habits, has become a point of contention in his upcoming federal trial. His lawyers dispute the government’s claim that his debt reached more than $15 million, while prosecutors say his financial woes were the catalyst for him allegedly threatening Nike when he did. Gardephe said he was expected to rule on Wednesday whether jurors could be shown evidence about Avenatti’s financial state, according to the Associated Press.
Messages left for Avenatti’s attorneys and prosecutors in California and New York were not immediately returned.
(c) 2020, The Washington Post · Timothy Bella