SANTA ANA (CNS) - Attorney Michael Avenatti, who is facing federal charges of stealing money from his clients in Orange County and awaiting sentencing in an extortion case in New York, claims he is broke and has asked for his attorney to be paid with public funds, according to court records obtained today.
Avenatti's application to have his private attorney, Dean Steward, appointed as a public defender for his Orange County case touched off a testy exchange in court papers as prosecutors questioned Avenatti's claim that he can no longer afford to pay his lawyer.
“I haven't been paid in quite awhile and I don't foresee getting paid,'' Steward told City News Service.
Federal prosecutors claimed in court papers that Avenatti's attorney has failed to follow up with several pledged court motions in the case and noted that between May and November of last year, Avenatti “deposited well over $1.1 million into his various bank accounts.''
The prosecutors also argued that Avenatti filed court papers in June that “detailed defendant's spending of the $1.1 million on his lavish lifestyle and other matters, but not on this case.''
Avenatti, at the time, was seeking to hire more legal help, according to prosecutors, who alleged that he previously attempted to get a public defender “even though he had just received a $1 million settlement payment.''
They wrote they have “concerns that defendant's present application may not be entirely truthful or candid, therefore, this court must be circumspect with defendant's application.''
The prosecutors also claimed Avenatti has “received gifts from fans and others either directly or through Mr. Steward,'' and raised questions about how much Avenatti has received from a $454 million jury verdict in a civil trial that was later whittled down on appeal to $26 million.
The prosecutors also noted that Avenatti appears to be doing most of the legal work on his case.
Steward fired back in a motion filed Friday, accusing prosecutors of “maligning'' him and Avenatti and claiming they engaged in “revisionist history.''
Steward wrote the prosecutors on the case are “permitted to dislike Mr. Avenatti and believe he's guilty ... The prosecution is likewise permitted to not care for his counsel and disagree with his approach to the defense in this case. But what the prosecutors are not permitted to do is allow their personal feelings about Mr. Avenatti and his counsel to consistently permeate and govern their approach and briefing in this case; the positions they take; and their role as prosecutors charged with seeking justice for the United States, as opposed to headlines and retribution for their close friends.''
The “close friends'' reference has touched off testy exchanges in the past as Steward has argued that one of the prosecutors on the case, Brett Sagel, is friends with Andrew Stolper, a former federal prosecutor in Santa Ana who was part of Avenatti's former law firm, which set off many of his problems as it collapsed and his former partners squabbled with him over assets.
Avenatti, who is under house arrest after being releases from a New York City jail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is now so broke he “sleeps on an air mattress at a friend's 1,000-square-foot apartment,'' Steward's motion says.
“His law license has been suspended and he will likely never practice law again,'' Steward wrote. “His estranged second wife, Lisa Storie-Avenatti, refuses to allow him to see his 5-year-old son despite a court order allowing for visitation and despite him and his lawyers repeatedly pleading for visitation.''
Steward added that Avenatti is “photographed by garbage tabloids when he walks on the balcony outside the apartment where he lives. His life and liberty hang in the balance. What exactly does the government maintain Mr. Avenatti is waiting for before he deploys these imaginary millions they claim he is hiding?''
Steward also argued that during Avenatti's trial for shaking down Nike, the legal theory in the case was that the defendant attempted to extort the shoe giant because he was $11 million in debt.
Steward said federal prosecutors cannot “now take an entirely inconsistent position in this case and claim the exact opposite.''
Steward also said Avenatti has a constitutional right to work on his case with his attorney.
U.S. District Judge James Selna is expected to make a ruling on the motion next week.
Avenatti is scheduled to go on trial next month in the case involving allegations that he cheated adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the case that vaulted him into public prominence. He is scheduled to be sentenced in the Nike case in October, and the Orange County case is set for trial in December.
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