Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti is accused of embezzaling nearly $2 million from the ex-girlfriend of Miami Heat star Hassan Whiteside after negotiating a settlement between the two, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
According to the paper, Whiteside agreed to pay Alexis Gardner $3 million after their breakup, with Avenatti, who represented Gardner at the time, entitled to $1 million in legal fees.
A federal court indictment claims Whiteside wired Avenatti $2.75 million in January 2017 and was scheduled to pay the remaining $250,000 in November of 2020. But instead of deducting his fee and giving Gardner the remainder of the payment, Avenatti allegedly took $2.5 million and bought a share of a private jet, prosecutors allege in an April 10 indictment of the lawyer by a federal grand jury in California.
The Times reported the 36-count federal indictment, which charges Avenatti with a slew of financial crimes, identifies Whiteside as “Individual 1” and Gardner as “Client 2.”
According to the Times, Avenatti never gave Gardner a copy of the settlement agreement and hid Whiteside's inital payment from her. Prosecutors alleged Avenatti told Gardner the initial payment from Whiteside was for his share of legal fees and that her payments would be made in monthly installments over an eight-year period, according to the indictment.
Avenatti made 11 payments to Gardner between March 15, 2017 and June 18, 2018, totaling $194,000, according to the paper. After Avenatti stopped making payment, prosecutors alleged he told Gardner that Whiteside had skipped installments and "was working on obtaining the missing monthly settlement payments."
Whiteside and Gardner confirmed the settlement to the Times, telling the paper in a joint statement that the deal “reflected Alexis’ investment of time and support over a number of years as Hassan pursued a career in the NBA.”
“It is unfortunate that something that was meant to be kept private between us is now being publicly reported,” they added. “We have both moved on amicably and wish nothing but the best for each other.”
Avenatti, who rose to fame after representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her case against President Donald Trump, said in a statement to the Times that "No monies were ever embezzled from anyone."
"I look forward to all of the relevant documents and facts being presented at trial,” he said.
The Southern California indictment alleges Avenatti embezzled from five clients, including a paraplegic man and Gardner, and deceived them by shuffling money between accounts to pay off small portions of what they were due to lull them into thinking they were getting paid.
The 48-year-old is also charged with not paying personal income taxes, not paying taxes for his various businesses, including two law firms, and pocketing payroll taxes from the Tully's Coffee chain that he owned, the indictment said.
He is also facing charges in a separate federal case in New York for his alleged involvement in an extortion plot against Nike.