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Lawyer Michael Avenatti due in California court on fraud charges

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Lawyer Michael Avenatti due in California court on fraud charges
FILE PHOTO: Attorney Michael Avenatti makes an initial appearance on charges of bank and wire fraud as he arrives at federal court in Santa Ana, California, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo   -   Copyright  Mike Blake(Reuters)
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(Reuters) – Michael Avenatti, the combative lawyer known for his battles with U.S. President Donald Trump, was due to be arraigned in a Santa Ana court on Monday on 36 counts of fraud, identity theft and other financial crimes.

A federal complaint filed in California charges Avenatti with multiple counts of wire fraud, accusing him of misusing more than $12 million (£9.2 million) he received on behalf of clients following settlements and other negotiations.

The 48-year-old attorney, who drew international attention for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her litigation against Trump, has said he will fight the charges and plead not guilty. He is free on a $300,000 bond.

Avenatti became a vocal critic of Trump and a frequent guest on cable television news while representing Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. She sued the president over a nondisclosure 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.

Prosecutors 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, according to federal prosecutors.

He is also 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 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.

(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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