On his first full day of representation in his federal trial against charges of stealing money from his former client Stormy Daniels, attorney Michael Avenatti was spectacularly upstaged by his own former attorney and hellish showman Sean Macias, a prosecution witness.
Wednesday’s proceedings began deep into money matters and investigative proceedings, just a day after Avenatti told the court he wanted to represent himself. Although she may not be discussing the most compelling points, Avenatti, who is accused of impersonating Daniels and convincing her book agent to send her a large sum of money intended for her, did a decent job for the first half of the day talking louder than everyone else. and giving off an air that he thought dominated the room. (Avenatti pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.)
During cross-examinations, he appeared to be at least confused in submission and occasionally rattled the FBI computer examiner as well as a special agent from the US Attorney’s office. The two seemed more like low-key mastermind types as they explained analyzing the contents of Avenatti’s computer and mapping the transfer of huge sums of money from Daniels’ book publisher to his bank accounts, respectively. Avenatti urged them to name names on who had assigned their work. It was at least vaguely intimidating, if not unnecessary.
Brimming with his singular charm, he at one point apologized for being “a pain” when asking a member of his legal team – who still supports him in the courtroom as he conducts his own defense – to present exhibits. As he spoke, he frequently looked and scanned the faces of the jurors as he spoke, brandishing what was left of his fallen resistance charisma like a man desperate to avoid another federal conviction.
Then, breaking the lull after lunch, came Sean Macias. Macias, whom the prosecution compelled by subpoena to testify and whose arrival on the bar of Avenatti’s defense had tried to block in pre-trial filings, recalled a gripping anecdote of Avenatti coming to him in late 2018 , desperate for money. He began by identifying the defendant as “the handsome boy with the shaved head”, but not before asking the men seated at the defense and prosecution tables to lower their masks so he could be sure.
Macias is the one who introduced Daniels and Avenatti, after Daniels came to tell her she wanted out of a nondisclosure agreement she signed with former President Donald Trump covering a sexual interaction she had had with him. But she had no money to hire a representative. He claimed to have connected her with Avenatti, who, in a meeting with the two of them, said they were going to get big on press pressure, an idea Daniels loved. And, Macias said, Avenatti said to him, “I’m going to charge you a dollar.”
This is where Avenatti-Daniels’ lawyer-client relationship and his rise to prominence began. With Avenatti championing Daniels’ cause in the public spotlight, the duo became momentary heroes of the anti-Trump movement, bravely standing up to a president many Americans believed had never been in power. Avenatti even considered a race 2020 himself.
The excitement was short-lived, however. According to Macias, a few months later, Avenatti was moping and acting “a little needy” at a Labor Day weekend conference they both attended in Las Vegas. “He was slumped like someone had stolen his ball,” Macias said. At a party hosted by the now-defunct law firm Girardi and Keese (founded by Tom Girardi, beleaguered ex-husband of a Real Housewife in Beverly Hills), Macias said Avenatti told him, ” She’s going crazy.”
According to Macias, Avenatti said Daniels was distressed because her publishing company had not sent her the large payments it owed her. “She was upset that she wasn’t getting paid and was either going to go to the press or blow the book deal,” Macias recalled. Avenatti wanted him to represent her if she decided to sue his publishing company.
On the Tuesday after Labor Day 2018, Macias said Avenatti showed up at his office to hastily demand $250,000 because he was going to be kicked out of his office space and also had to pay his firm’s employees. of lawyers. “He said he was stuck and needed help,” Macias said. Macias said he was “shocked” that the high profile lawyer who was making television appearances at the time was having financial problems. “I said the F-word with a ‘no’ at the end,” Macias said. He did not give Avenatti the money, but said Avenatti begged him not to let him hang. “He said: ‘Come on, player, you have to help me,'” Macias said.
Macias made a few calls. Avenatti reportedly presented himself as someone “fighting the good fight” and told a potential lender friend of Macias that the owners of his office building were trying to kick him out because they were Republicans. Prosecutors entered into evidence a promissory note written that day by Avenatti for a $300,000 loan from Macias’ contact. When Avenatti said he needed the money the next morning, the offer collapsed. An e-mail with the subject “Avenatti Loan no go” was filed in evidence. Macias declined to share the exact words Avenatti said on the phone when he told her the bad news, despite repeated requests from the prosecution and U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman. “He was really upset,” was all Macias said. “He was torn, he was crying.” Avenatti begged him to call another friend, star attorney Mark Geragos. Macias did so and managed to get him a $250,000 loan. Macias testified that when he explained the situation, Geragos said, “For President? Why not.”
During heated cross-examination of his self-described former “lifesaver”, Avenatti tried to regain control of the spotlight in the courtroom. He accused Macias of insisting on a bid deal with the government because he knew he could be charged with crimes. Macias said that wasn’t true, and that an offer deal is something “any smart witness” would demand. He added that he did it “because I had no idea what you were doing”, although Avenatti managed to have that comment removed from the record. He repeatedly tried to contain Macias by asking the court to delete his endless answers and allow only a “yes” or “no” on the record. He got his way a handful of times.
Avenatti attempted to portray his seemingly desperate search for a loan as a fundraising effort for his presidential run which never materialized. Macias admitted he remembered the possibility of the race, drawing attention to himself. “You told me you wanted me to be chief of staff, I said to appoint me ambassador to France – that would be great,” he said, smiling at Avenatti from the witness box. Avenatti asked Macias if it was true that he had come to Macias to get campaign money. Macias took issue with the wording of the question and, in a final power struggle of the day, Avenatti said, “I would like an answer to my question.” The judge sided with Macias. “Ask another question and he’ll answer it,” Furman said. Avenatti asked if Macias’ efforts to help him get money in August 2018 had been linked to Avenatti’s campaign. “Absolutely not,” Macias replied.
Aventatti was indicted in May 2019 for stealing book payments meant for Daniels when she was his client. Prosecutors said that after Avenatti helped Daniels secure a book deal to publish his 2018 memoir, full disclosure, he forged a letter from her to his literary agent, causing the agent to send $300,000 in payments from his publisher to a bank account controlled by him. Avenatti then used that money, according to the indictment, to pay employees of his law firm as well as to pay for hotels, airfare, meals, car, utilities and cleaning at sec, and to make a $3,900 lease payment on a Ferrari, among other things. things. When Daniels started asking Avenatti why the payments hadn’t arrived from the publisher, according to the indictment, he told her he was working on it and at one point even said that he threatened the company with legal action if it did not send the money to Daniels. “He blatantly lied and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a press release announcing the charges. Avenatti ultimately only repaid half of it, prosecutors said.
The trial began on Monday, when the lawyers presented their opening statements. Prosecutors said it was a clear case of a lawyer stealing from his clients. The defense called Daniels a “disgruntled former client” in a fees dispute with Avenatti, who owed a “reasonable percentage” of the proceeds from her book. Daniels is expected to testify Thursday.