Jurors struggle with verdict in Michael Avenatti's fraud trial

2 minute read
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

NEW YORK, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The jury in lawyer Michael Avenatti's criminal trial said on Thursday it was struggling to decide whether he had defrauded porn star Stormy Daniels, who he represented in her legal battle with then-President Donald Trump.

Jurors reported being unable to agree after only four hours of deliberations over two days in federal court in Manhattan.

It would be rare for a judge to deem a jury deadlocked and declare a mistrial so quickly. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman directed jurors to continue their deliberations, which began Wednesday afternoon.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Avenatti, 50, is charged with embezzling nearly $300,000 of Daniels' book proceeds, in part by forging her signature.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of wire fraud, plus a mandatory two-year term if convicted of aggravated identity theft. If he were acquitted of wire fraud, he must then also be acquitted of identity theft.

Avenatti, who is representing himself, has pleaded not guilty to both counts, calling his dispute with Daniels a disagreement over legal fees that has no place in court.

The brash, Los Angeles-based lawyer said he had a good-faith belief that his contract to represent Daniels entitled him to some money from her book proceeds, and therefore had no intent to defraud her.

In a second note to the judge on Thursday, jurors requested a definition of "good faith," plus a transcript of Daniels' testimony.

Furman referred them to his original instructions, and said they must acquit Avenatti if he had an "honest belief that he was entitled to take money or property" from Daniels.

Avenatti rose to fame in 2018 while representing Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, in lawsuits against Trump.

Daniels, 42, is known for receiving $130,000 in hush money from Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to keep quiet ahead of the 2016 election about sexual encounters she says she had with Trump, who denies they took place.

Avenatti successfully sued him to get Daniels out of the nondisclosure agreement.

The criminal charges related to Daniels are among a slew of accusations that have ended Avenatti's career as a lawyer.

Avenatti is appealing a conviction and a 2-1/2-year prison sentence for extorting Nike Inc , and faces dozens of charges in California that he cheated other clients and committed bank fraud, bankruptcy fraud and tax fraud.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.