By Brendan Pierson
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Lawyer Michael Avenatti, who became nationally known as an outspoken critic of U.S. President Donald Trump before his arrest earlier this year, will stand trial in April on charges that he stole from his former client Stormy Daniels, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts set the April 21 trial date at a brief hearing in Manhattan federal court. The trial is expected to last one to two weeks.
Avenatti, 48, was arrested in New York in March. New York prosecutors have charged him with stealing nearly $300,000 from Daniels in the course of representing her and helping her secure a book deal, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
The prosecutors said Avenatti diverted two $148,750 installment payments from Daniels’ $800,000 book advance by forging her signature in a letter to her literary agent and directing that the money be sent to his bank account.
Avenatti eventually paid $148,750 to Daniels after obtaining the funds from another source, according to prosecutors. However, when Daniels asked about the second payment, Avenatti falsely told Daniels the publisher “owes me a payment” and that he was “on it,” prosecutors said.
Avenatti’s lawyer, Dean Steward, said at Tuesday’s hearing that he was considering filing a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that it was motivated by the “vindictiveness” of Avenatti’s political enemies in the Trump administration.
Batts, however, expressed scepticism.
“This office is not known for being vindictive,” she said of the Manhattan federal prosecutors who brought the charges.
Avenatti is charged in a separate federal case in New York with trying to extort Nike Inc<NKE.N>. Prosecutors in that case have accused Avenatti of threatening to publicize claims that Nike arranged for payments to elite college basketball recruits unless the athletic wear company paid him more than $20 million and hired him to manage an internal probe.
A trial in that case had been scheduled for November, but Avenatti has asked that it be postponed until January.
He is also charged by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles with stealing millions of dollars from clients to pay for personal and business expenses and lying to the Internal Revenue Service and a Mississippi bank about his finances. A trial in that case is scheduled for May 19.
Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)