Federal agents arrested attorney Michael Avenatti Monday on charges from separate cases in New York and California, including allegedly attempting to extort $20 million from Nike. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles charged Avenatti with two felony counts of wire fraud and mail fraud related to embezzling a client’s money to pay his own expenses and using fake tax returns to defraud a bank. According to The Daily Beast, Avenatti allegedly used $1.6 million of a client’s settlement for himself. CNBC reports Avenatti allegedly defrauded a Mississippi bank by submitting falsified tax returns to secure loans totalling $4.1 million. Above the Law says this charge may be more problematic for Avenatti than the Nike case. Another report on CNBC says prosecutors have Avenatti on tape. Meanwhile, HuffPost reports that Nike attorneys contacted the US Attorney’s office on March 19 that Avenatti was threatening to extort the company for up to $25 million. HuffPost has a copy of the indictment from the Southern District of New York. Avenatti formerly represented adult film star Stormy Daniels over a hush money payment paid to her after an alleged affair with President Trump. Daniels says she’s “saddened but not shocked” at news of Avenatti’s arrest. Avenatti is free on $300,000 bail, says CNN.
As President Nixon did recording audio in the Oval Office that would haunt him in the Watergate investigation, it turns out President Trump’s attorney Micheal Cohen also regularly recorded conversations. Now, Trump’s team is concerned that the FBI may have seized those recordings when agents raided Cohen’s office, home and hotel room. The Washington Post and CNN report that Trump staffers were warned not to have conversations in Cohen’s office: According to CNN, “It’s one of the first things people entering Trump world would be told: Don’t have conversations in his office. He’s recording it,” one former campaign official said. Legal experts told the Post that any such recordings would be highly valuable to prosecutors.
“If you are looking for evidence, you can’t do any better than people talking on tape,” said Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor.
Such recordings “would be considered a gold mine,” said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University who specializes in legal ethics.
“The significance is 9.5 to 10 on a 10-point scale,” he added, noting that investigators know “that when people speak on the phone, they are not guarded. They don’t imagine that the conversation will surface.”
The Post reports a hearing is scheduled Friday on Cohen’s efforts to prevent the government from using material seized by the FBI.
After the FBI raided the office and hotel room of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen on Monday, some conservative pundits and the president are crying foul over the sanctity of attorney-client privilege. USA Today has a look at why the raid is unusual and the hurdles investigators had to clear to get a search warrant. The Washington Post also has analysis of how and why the FBI was able to execute the search. As you may know, Cohen is at the center of a controversy over the payment of $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels, with whom Trump is alleged to have had an affair. CNN legal analyst and former prosecutor Paul Callan calls the raid “a stunning move,” as well as “extraordinarily unusual and highly aggressive.” The president raged after hearing the news, leading some analysts to speculate whether Trump will fire special prosecutor Robert Mueller or others in the Justice Department. CNN quoted the president:
“Why don’t I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’ll see what happens,” he said, making sure to repeat the question for the cameras. “And many people have said, you should fire him.”
One former US attorney told The Washington Post that the raid is like “dropping a bomb on Trump’s front porch.” For the latest developments, follow The Trial Lawyer magazine on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.