Michael Avenatti, perhaps Newport Beach’s most well-known attorney, is now looking at a maximum sentence of over 300 years in prison based on a 36-count federal indictment from a grand jury seated in California. The indictment alleges Mr. Avenatti committed a variety of white collar crimes. For his part, Mr. Avenatti, through his attorney, denied the charges and indicated that he looks forward to his day in court.
The indictment includes allegations that Mr. Avenatti engaged in tax fraud and also committed other financial crimes. In essence, the accusation is that Mr. Avenatti diverted millions from clients who were expecting him to hold their money in trust. Mr. Avenatti received some of the money from settlement proceeds that he allegedly did not tell his clients about but used for personal expenditures instead.
There was some indication in the months prior to the indictment that Mr. Avenatti’s firm may have been facing financial difficulties. For instance, one government spokesperson said that he was millions behind on his taxes.
Of course, being in financial trouble does not make a person dishonest. As Mr. Avenatti stated, the fact he is charged does not make him guilty of the crimes. At this time, the law presumes that he is innocent. However, he faces the possibility of severe penalties, including what could effectively be life behind bars.
While it may seem like the least of his worries, his ability to continue practicing as an attorney is in peril because of these allegations.
No matter how one feels about Mr. Avenatti as a figure in the public media, it is important to remember that people who handle the money of others, including lawyers, can often find themselves facing criminal charges for what really are careless or even irresponsible, but not criminal, mistakes. Those accused of these sorts of crimes have a right to a full legal defense.