(Reuters) – Lawyer Michael Avenatti, known for his battles with U.S. President Donald Trump, pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal charges that he allegedly stole millions of dollars from clients and failed to pay taxes.
Avenatti, 48, who drew international attention last year for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her litigation against Trump, entered his plea in federal court in Santa Ana, California, Fox News reported.
He was represented by a public defender, local media reported.
Avenatti faces separate federal charges in California and New York.
California prosecutors accused him of misusing more than $12 million he received on behalf of clients following settlements and other negotiations. Avenatti, who is free on $300,000 bond, in a statement Monday cited Trump and said he was entitled to be presumed innocent.
“We don’t convict someone in America based on a one-sided argument and a press-conference,” Avenatti said. “Even when he is one of the biggest enemies of the president and his son,” he said on Twitter.
Avenatti, who frequently appeared on television and verbally attacked Trump in the media while representing Daniels, avoided reporters after his court appearance, walking briskly to his car and leaving without making a statement.
Avenatti became a frequent guest on cable television news while representing Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. She sued the president over a non-disclosure agreement that in the weeks before the 2016 U.S. presidential election kept her from discussing her claims that she and Trump had an extramarital affair 10 years earlier.
Trump has denied the alleged affair.
Federal prosecutors in California say Avenatti misled clients and misused their funds to pay personal and legal expenses, finance a coffee shop business he also ran, and pay for his share of a private jet.
He also is accused of failing to file personal tax returns since 2010 and to pay $3.2 million in payroll taxes on his coffee business, even though he withheld some portion of this money from employee paychecks.
New York prosecutors have separately accused Avenatti, who briefly considered a run for president last year, of trying to blackmail athletic wear maker Nike Inc for more than $20 million.
Daniels, who replaced Avenatti as her lawyer last month, has said she was “saddened but not shocked” by his arrest.