Stormy Daniels Slams Michael Avenatti’s Slimy ‘Betrayal’

·13 min read
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

For the better part of 2018, adult film star Stormy Daniels and her flashy California litigator Michael Avenatti were flying high as an unlikely tag-team bent on taking down President Trump.

They hijacked the national news cycle after suing the president over an NDA that silenced Daniels ahead of the 2016 election, forbidding her from speaking about her alleged sexcapade with Trump a decade before. They'd also taunted Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen with a defamation suit, and stole the show at his court hearing after the feds raided his home.

And when Daniels was set to release a memoir, she joined Avenatti on ABC’s The View for a victory lap. “I think people are going to be very moved by this book, by its content, and they’re going to learn a lot about this incredible woman,” Avenatti raved, “who I am proud to call my client and my friend because she’s had an amazing life.”

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Now, three-and-a-half years later, their formerly famous buddy system is as dead as Avenatti's dubious presidential aspirations. Manhattan federal prosecutors say Avenatti committed the ultimate betrayal: Stealing money owed to Daniels for her book and lying about it for months.

On Thursday, Daniels took the stand against the disgraced attorney, who is accused of embezzling almost $300,000 of her $800,000 book advance while claiming her publisher never paid her, in what marks his third criminal trial since 2020. (Avenatti was previously convicted of conspiring to extort the Nike corporation in New York, while his California trial for allegedly embezzling millions from his own clients ended in a mistrial.)

“He lied to me almost every day for five months,” Daniels testified, adding that she was “shocked,” “hurt,” and “felt very betrayed and stupid.”

“I don’t know if there is a word stronger than furious. But that would be it,” Daniels added when asked about one fateful day in February 2019, when she discovered proof that her book publisher, St. Martin’s Press, had already wired Avenatti her money.

Daniels appeared in court a day after Avenatti ditched his public defenders and decided to represent himself. It’s unclear whether he’ll testify in his own defense.

Her testimony unveiled a behind-the-scenes look at her first meeting with Avenatti (at the lobby bar of the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills), their attorney-client fee agreement (she paid him $100 to represent her), and the ensuing months when she badgered him for help in getting her publisher to pay up. As she pushed Avenatti to obtain a missing installment of close to $150,000, she had no idea Avenatti had allegedly already received—and spent—the proceeds.

Avenatti is accused of swiping Daniels’ money by allegedly forging her signature on a letter to her literary agent, instructing him to wire Daniels’ book advance to a client-trust account he controlled. Those instructions came at a time when Avenatti was fighting creditors for millions of debts related to his law firm, defunct coffee chain, and divorce case.

Since the trial kicked off on Monday, prosecutors have relied on a batch of text messages between Daniels and Avenatti to depict the timeline of events. In those exhibits, Avenatti repeatedly told Daniels he was working on getting her money.

The 42-year-old porn actress and director—whose latest venture is a ghost-hunting TV project Spooky Babes—told jurors that she was elated to receive her first advance payment for her book, Full Disclosure. “It solidified that I’m a real author,” Daniels said, adding that she’d dreamed of writing a memoir for 10 years.

“Got the wire,” Daniels texted Avenatti in April 2018 after she signed her book deal and the first payment of about $212,000 arrived. “I can’t feel my face.” (Asked what she meant, Daniels said she was ecstatic, her “face was numb from smiling so much.”)

“Congrats,” Avenatti replied. “We make a good team. Enjoy. :)”

Daniels testified that in a later phone call, Avenatti called her an “American hero” and said, “I love you, Stormy Daniels.” According to the entertainer, Avenatti promised he’d “never take a penny” from her book and that his payday would instead come from suing Trump and through their crowdfunding website for her legal battle with the president.

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Under questioning from assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman, Daniels said she and a ghost writer named Kevin completed her book in July 2018. After the publisher accepted the manuscript, her agreement stated, she was owed a second payment of $175,000. (Her literary agent would receive a 15-percent cut of that installment.)

On July 28, 2018, Daniels sent Avenatti texts asking when her $148,750 ​would arrive, saying her draft was complete “a while ago.”

From that point until the following February, Daniels repeatedly asked Avenatti for updates on her second, and eventually her third, payment from St. Martin’s. “I did not get paid today,” Daniels texted Avenatti on Sept. 5. “I am not fucking happy. They are in breach of contract by about four weeks.”

But unbeknownst to Daniels, prosecutors say, Avenatti swiped her second installment for himself—before secretly obtaining a loan from celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos to pay her back with a cashier’s check, claiming it came from the publisher.

Avenatti would soon tell Daniels the publisher had inexplicably mailed a cashier’s check for her to his office, despite the actress giving the company her bank account and wire instructions. His office cashed the check, which covered the second installment, into her account.

Prosecutors say that in September 2018, Avenatti secretly convinced the publisher to send Daniels her third payment early, but that Daniels never received a cent of that installment. Originally, Daniels was owed $175,000 (or $148,750, with her literary agent’s fee) upon publication of the book. According to his indictment, Avenatti used the money on personal expenses like a $3,900 monthly Ferrari car payment and $56,000 toward his firm’s payroll.

In October of that year, Daniels texted Avenatti a screenshot of her book contract, circling the portion in red ink that indicated she’d receive her third payment upon publication of the book. “That means I get paid tomorrow, right?” she asked, to which Avenatti replied, “Yes.”

That third payment never arrived.

Sobelman asked Daniels why she had enlisted Avenatti to help her communicate with the publisher. “He was my attorney,” she answered. “I trusted him to handle it.”

Daniels’ testimony suggested that Avenatti played the part of dishonest middleman, falsely arguing St. Martin’s Press wasn’t happy with her publicity on the book and that she didn’t reach her contractual requirements for it. Avenatti had another excuse up his sleeve: He claimed her book sales were unremarkable. Daniels testified that the number of copies sold, however, had no bearing on whether she would be paid.

As a result of Avenatti’s comments, the actress and her then-PR representative, Denver Nicks, crafted a list of all her promotions for the book—including a spot on late night host Jimmy Kimmel’s show—to present to the publisher. “They should feel like assholes,” Avenatti texted Daniels on November 27, 2018, in response to her complaints. “It’s bullshit.”

At one point, Daniels asked Avenatti for crowdfunding money to pay her security team, which she endearingly referred to as her “dragons.” She said Avenatti told her to foot the $26,000 herself and that his office would reimburse her.

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Daniels’ trust in Avenatti apparently began to fray in late November, after she discovered Avenatti had created a second online fundraiser for her legal effort without telling her. The Daily Beast exclusively reported that Daniels was upset that Avenatti launched another crowdfunding site without her permission, and claimed that Avenatti sued Trump for defamation against her wishes. Daniels also said she'd repeatedly asked Avenatti for a full accounting for her first crowdfunding effort, which raised nearly $600,000 from the public.

“You should not be attacking me publicly,” Avenatti warned Daniels in a text on Nov. 28, 2018. “It puts me in a very difficult spot because I have to defend myself and I don’t want to respond in kind. We have to work this out.”

“I did not attack you. I stated all my truths,” Daniels replied. “Are you threatening me now?” Daniels added, perhaps softening the blow of the confrontation, “You are an incredible and brilliant man with balls of steel. I will always admire you.”

After Avenatti provided Daniels a letter with the supposed accounting, the litigator sent her a statement to tweet out from her account saying they’d “sorted everything out” and the finances were “on the up and up.”

Still, Daniels continued fighting for her book earnings, becoming more and more angry that the money she was depending on was late. Daniels testified that she was living with her ex-husband and waiting on the book money for a down payment on a house of her own. “I am trapped in this house with my ex until I get paid,” Daniels texted Avenatti on Dec. 27, 2018. “Each day is one step closer to one of us going to jail.” In court, Daniels clarified she was “uncomfortable” in her housing situation with her ex.

Daniels kept pressing Avenatti for help in reaching the publisher and her literary agent, Luke Janklow, who wouldn’t return her calls. (On Monday, Janklow testified that Avenatti instructed him to communicate only with him about Daniels' book matters.)

Finally, after Avenatti claimed she could expect a wire with her money on Feb. 13, 2019 and she hadn’t, Daniels informed him she’d sent a text to “every single other person at the publisher and will continue to do so every hour until I am paid.”

On Feb. 14, Daniels texted Avenatti that she had an interview lined up with a journalist and had sent an employee of the publisher a “final warning.”

Daniels also informed Avenatti that reporters had approached the bus for her stripclub tour asking questions about his law firm, whose millions in debts and bankruptcy court filings were making headlines. “WTF is going on?” she wrote. Avenatti replied by texting her a statement he advised her to issue to reporters that called his personal scandal “a big nothing burger.”

“He ignored my stuff and only cared about what they were asking about him,” Daniels testified of his instructions for the press scrum.

“OK. Now. Find my fucking money,” Daniels answered Avenatti in a text.

“Word!!!!!!” Avenatti said.

When Avenatti contacted her the next day, she didn’t answer. Sobelman asked Daniels why she suddenly ignored him. “Because I had spoken to the publisher,” Daniels testified. “Michael had been lying and stealing from me and my payments had been sent months before.”

On Feb. 19, 2019, Daniels peppered Avenatti with text messages that included screengrabs of wire transfers, showing Avenatti had her money this whole time. Her agent, Janklow, finally provided copies showing the payments already went through. “I didn’t even know you had a trust account with my name on it,” she texted him.

Daniels then sent Avenatti details for her new lawyer. “I didn’t want to hear another word Michael Avenatti had to say,” Daniels testified.

Avenatti tried to turn the tables that very same day, sending her a letter claiming his law firm was dumping her because she was an unresponsive client.

“I felt violated,” Daniels testified. “He lied to me and betrayed my trust.”

Avenatti cross-examined Daniels for about 10 minutes before court adjourned for the day, wishing her a good afternoon before asking whether she had a single email, text, or recording of him promising not to take money from her book deal. She answered no.

"How was I supposed to get paid for all the work that I and my law firm did for you over the course of 12 months?" he asked. Daniels testified she believed he would be paid through her legal defense fund and winnings against Trump.

Then Avenatti took aim at Daniels’ latest turn as a paranormal investigator. “You pride yourself on always telling the truth?” Avenatti asked her, to which she replied in the affirmative.

“You have claimed you have a perfect memory?” Avenatti asked, before inquiring, “You have claimed you have the ability to see and speak to dead people?” Avenatti then alluded to Daniels’ claims of having “X-ray vision” and suggested she claimed she could see into peoples’ houses. The lawyer asked about “a haunted doll named Susan you speak to and she speaks back?”

“Susan speaks to everyone,” Daniels answered. “She’s a character on the show.” Daniels then quipped that Susan has her own Instagram.

Before Daniels entered the witness box, Avenatti wrapped up his cross examination of Sean Ernesto Macias, an attorney and friend who said Avenatti was desperate for a $250,000 loan in September 2018. It was Macias who introduced Daniels to Avenatti that February when she was seeking a lawyer to fight her “hush agreement” with Trump.

According to Macias’ testimony on Wednesday, Avenatti claimed he was “jammed up,” his Newport Beach law firm was about to be evicted, and he couldn't make payroll.

Macias declined to give Avenatti the money but asked a colleague named Jack, who owned nightclubs in Los Angeles, to help him. When the pals met Jack at his home, Avenatti was adamant that he needed the cash tomorrow and claimed his Republican landlord was out to get him.

Early the next day, Avenatti phoned Macias for an update on Jack’s potential loan. “It was a beautiful September morning,” Macias testified, “and I thought no good deed goes unpunished.” Macias testified that he contacted Jack, who said he was unable to help. “He was really upset, like really upset,” Macias said of Avenatti, but declined to elaborate on what exactly Avenatti told him.

“I couldn’t even understand him, he was teared up, crying,” Macias testified, adding, “I still feel bad for him.”

Once Avenatti “calmed down,” he asked Macias to phone another possible lender: lawyer Mark Geragos—who would later be embroiled in Avenatti’s Nike extortion case but wasn’t charged.

“Hey, Avenatti’s jammed up,” Macias said he told Geragos. “Don’t yell at me but he needs a bridge loan.” Macias said Geragos laughed and asked how much Avenatti needed and that he replied $250,000 to $300,000.

“For el presidente, why not,” Geragos allegedly answered before doling out $250,000.

Days before Avenatti appeared in his office pressuring him for money, Macias said they attended a consumer attorney conference in Vegas and its attendant Friday night party.

Macias testified Avenatti was “melancholy” during the festivities and said Daniels was “going crazy” because her book publisher hadn’t paid her. She was threatening to go to the media, Avenatti told Macias, before asking Macias to represent Daniels in a potential lawsuit against the publishing house.

“He seemed a little more agitated than he normally was,” Macias said of Avenatti. “He seemed a bit needy.”

Meanwhile, Macias detailed how he and Avenatti plotted his Democratic presidential run throughout 2018.

Macias testified that Avenatti told him that if he made it to the White House, he wanted him as his chief of staff. But Macias said he preferred to be ambassador of France.

On Thursday, Avenatti asked Macias whether it was true that he “liked Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii in connection to my campaign.” Avenatti didn’t elaborate but perhaps meant that he wanted the former Congresswoman as his running mate.

Avenatti then recited a text Macias allegedly sent him about fundraising. “I am getting you some Dough Re Mi so you can run like a banshee,” Avenatti claimed Macias wrote.

The embattled lawyer then asked Macias if he now serves as his estranged wife’s lawyer in connection to their divorce proceedings. Macias answered yes before he was excused.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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