Embattled attorney Michael Avenatti is accused of embezzling almost $2 million in a case he worked for with the ex-girlfriend of Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside.
Alexis Gardner struck a $3 million settlement with Whiteside over a private matter more than two years ago and the NBA star wired his ex $2.75 million in a trust for her in January 2017, according to court documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times. Whiteside was due to pay the remaining $250,000 by November 2020.
Avenatti was supposed to take $1 million in legal fees but instead he took $2.5 million to use for a private jet, prosecutors argued in an indictment by a California-based grand jury on April 10.
Avenatti told Gardner the first payment was for legal fees and said she would be given monthly payments over the course of eight years. The celebrity attorney, known for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her suit against Donald Trump as well as women who accused R. Kelly of sexual assault, made 11 payments to Gardner totaling $194,000, which ceased in June 2018, the L.A. Times reported.
“We entered into a mutually agreed upon settlement more than two years ago following the end of our relationship; a settlement that reflected Alexis’ investment of time and support over a number of years as Hassan pursued a career in the NBA,” Whiteside and Gardner said in a statement to the L.A. Times. “It is unfortunate that something that was meant to be kept private between us is now being publicly reported. We have both moved on amicably and wish nothing but the best for each other.”
Avenatti’s mishandling of the case is part of a 36-count grand jury indictment that includes four other clients he’s alleged to have stolen millions from in addition to Gardner. Among them are YouTube makeup star Michelle Phan and Geoffrey Ernest Johnson, a paraplegic man who was arrested in 2011 after a psychotic episode where he attempted suicide, according to court documents from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
“No monies were ever embezzled from anyone and I look forward to all of the relevant documents and facts being presented at trial,” Avenatti said in an emailed statement to the L.A. Times. “The clients complaining are a very small fraction of the thousands of clients I have serviced over my nearly 20 year career.”
Additionally, he tweeted Sunday, “I look forward to ALL of the details coming out regarding Hassan Whiteside’s settlement, the money received by the client, the money deducted for fees and costs, etc. and the reason why he paid the money. I especially look forward to the inquiry by the @NBA and its commissioner.”
The attorney also faces a federal extortion and conspiracy case in connection to Nike, which he has also denied.