Born on February 16, 1971, in Sacramento, California, Avenatti spent his early childhood in Colorado and Utah. His father was a manager for Anheuser-Busch. He moved with his family to Chesterfield, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, in 1982, where he attended Parkway Central High School. After graduating in 1989, Avenatti attended Saint Louis University for a year before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a B.A. in political science in 1996. While in college, he worked as an opposition researcher for Rahm Emanuel's political consulting firm.
Avenatti was wait-listed for George Washington University Law School (GW) and attended its night school program, during which he worked with Professor Jonathan Turley on constitutional issues relating to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In 2000, he graduated Order of the Coif and first in class with a J.D. In 2003, his alma mater established the Michael J. Avenatti Award for Excellence in Pre-Trial and Trial Advocacy, after Avenatti made five figure donations to the school. The annual award is given to the member of the graduating Juris Doctor class who demonstrates excellence in pre-trial and trial advocacy. Avenatti was awarded GW's Alumni Recognition Award, in 2010.
In March 2018, Avenatti filed a lawsuit on behalf of adult film actress Stormy Daniels seeking to invalidate a 2016 non-disclosure agreement regarding an alleged affair with Donald Trump in 2006. The non-disclosure agreement had been negotiated in the final days of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign. Avenatti also represented Daniels in a related defamation suit against Trump. In October 2018, a federal judge dismissed the defamation lawsuit and ordered Daniels to pay Trump's legal fees. Avenatti said he would appeal that decision; Daniels later said that Avenatti had initiated the suit against her wishes.
In 2007, Avenatti formed the law firm Eagan Avenatti, LLP (formerly known as Eagan O'Malley & Avenatti, LLP) with offices in Newport Beach, Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. The firm launched many high-profile lawsuits including one over allegedly defective hospital gowns. He has since appeared on 60 Minutes three times in connection with cases he has handled. Avenatti has also served as lead counsel on a number of historically large cases, including an April 2017 $454 million verdict after a jury trial in Federal Court in Los Angeles in a fraud case against Kimberly-Clark and Halyard Health, later reduced to a $21.7 million verdict upon appeal, an $80.5 million class-action settlement against Service Corporation International, and a $41 million jury verdict against KPMG.
Avenatti was married for 13 years to Christine Carlin Avenatti, with whom he has two teenage daughters. He married Lisa Storie in 2011. They have one son. Lisa Storie-Avenatti filed for divorce in December 2017. In December 2018, according to court documents, Avenatti and his wife settled their divorce, with Avenatti agreeing to pay Lisa $1,947,540 in child and spousal support, and to transfer ownership of several assets to her, including five luxury wristwatches, a Frank Gehry sculpture, other artwork, and a leased 2017 Ferrari 488 GT Spider, while his law firm would transfer to Lisa its interest in a 2015 Honda private jet.
In 2013, Avenatti formed a company, Global Baristas, to buy Seattle-based Tully's Coffee out of bankruptcy. Avenatti first formed a partnership with actor Patrick Dempsey, but Dempsey later backed away from the venture after a short legal battle that resulted in a settlement. Since 2015, Global Baristas has been named in more than 50 lawsuits in state and federal courts for breach of contract, unpaid bills, and unpaid taxes.
In 2015, Avenatti prevailed against the National Football League (NFL) following a jury trial in Dallas. He later pursued a class-action suit on behalf of fans who showed up for Super Bowl XLV with tickets that didn't correspond to actual seats but the courts in Texas declined to certify the class.
In 2016, Avenatti filed another class action lawsuit against the NFL, this time on behalf of ticket-holders to the annual Hall of Fame Game, which was cancelled a few hours before kickoff.
In 2017, a Florida man named Gerald Tobin alleged Avenatti failed to pay him $28,700 for private investigatory work. As a result, Avenatti's firm was abruptly forced into bankruptcy. In various news reports, including work done by CNN, Tobin was found to be an ex-con with four decades of convictions and jail time and not a licensed investigator. Tobin's claim forced Avenatti to cancel a deposition in an unrelated lawsuit days later, raising the question of collusion between Avenatti and Tobin. The issue was resolved when the pair entered into a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and Avenatti paid Tobin the $28,700.
On April 10, 2019, Avenatti was charged by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana, California of embezzling funds that his client, NBA player Hassan Whiteside, had wired to him in January 2017 for the purpose of paying a settlement to his ex-girlfriend. Avenatti stands accused of withholding client funds and applying most of the settlement money of $1.75 million, along with his included $1 million fee, in order to invest $2.5 million in a share of a private jet. He is further accused of misrepresenting Whiteside’s settlement payment as monthly installments, which he paid out until June 2018, totaling $194,000. Federal agents subsequently seized a Honda HA-420 twin-engine jet from Santa Barbara Airport that was co-owned by Avenatti and former client, Indigo Systems co-founder William J. Parrish, as the latter was about to embark on a flight. Parrish successfully sued Avenatti in 2017 for $2.1 million for failure to repay a 2013 loan. Avenatti had not appeared in court to defend himself and is appealing that judgment. Avenatti denies the charges.
In 2018, Avenatti's law firm was subjected to a $10 million judgment in U.S. bankruptcy court. Avenatti has also defaulted on a $440,000 judgment in back taxes, penalties, and interest that he was personally obligated to pay under another bankruptcy settlement. The U.S. Attorney's office asserted in court that a motion seeking payment would soon be filed against Avenatti. Eagan Avenatti had been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and, in December 2017, had agreed to pay $4.8 million in unpaid fees to a former partner, $2 million in back taxes, and $1 million to other creditors. In June 2018, the former partner filed a motion in U.S. bankruptcy court asking for a lien on any and all legal fees Avenatti's firm might collect, up to $10 million, from clients in 54 cases including his representation of Stormy Daniels.
In May 2018, Avenatti released records showing multiple large payments, some from major corporations, into the bank account Cohen had used to pay Daniels. Cohen's lawyers subsequently argued that some of the transactions released by Avenatti involved a different Michael Cohen, but they did not dispute the larger deposits. The US Treasury Department opened an investigation into how Avenatti gained information from Cohen's private bank records. Avenatti had also filed a motion to join the federal investigation of Michael Cohen. The federal judge issued Avenatti "a choice" that if he wanted to join he would have to end what the judge called his "publicity tour" of TV appearances and tweets about the case. Avenatti withdrew the motion, and appeared on MSNBC that same day.
Avenatti was a frequent guest on talk shows and cable news programs to discuss the cases, logging 108 CNN and MSNBC appearances between March 7 and May 10, 2018. He also gained a large following on Twitter; he ended his tweets about the case and other Trump-related matters with the Twitter hashtag "#basta"–the Italian word for "enough."
Avenatti provided a video to MSNBC which aired on the June 25, 2018, episode of The Rachel Maddow Show, a "secretly shot" video of a child in the custody of immigration officials who was separated from her mother. The video was leaked by a former employee whom Avenatti represents. The leaked video was part of the response to the Trump administration family separation policy.
Avenatti expressed interest in running for President of the United States in 2020; he started a political action committee, and held his first fundraiser at the Democratic Wing Ding in August. In September 2018, Avenatti said he would run in 2020 only against Trump or Pence. On November 1, 2018, Avenatti released his first political ad, which urged Americans to vote on November 6, 2018; the Washington Post ranked him a top 15 contender. On December 4, 2018, Avenatti announced that he would not be a candidate for president of the United States in 2020. In a Twitter post, he announced "I do not make this decision lightly — I make it out of respect for my family."
In September 2018, as the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court was being evaluated in the Senate, two women accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct while in high school or college. Avenatti then announced that he had a client who made additional allegations against Kavanaugh, as both a witness and a victim of his inappropriate behavior, and that she would soon come forward publicly. On September 25, the woman was publicly identified by Avenatti as Julie Swetnick, a resident of Washington, D.C. and a 1980 graduate of Gaithersburg High School in Maryland. Swetnick claimed in a sworn affidavit, signed under penalty of perjury, that Kavanaugh, as a high school student in the early 1980s, drank excessively and engaged in physically aggressive behavior toward girls. She said he was present at parties where girls were drugged and gang raped and that he participated in those activities. Swetnick also claims that she was gang raped at a party where Kavanaugh was present, although he did not personally participate in the attack. Kavanaugh retorted, "I don't know who this is and this never happened." September 26 the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Chairman Grassley requesting "[i]n light of shocking new allegations detailed by Julie Swetnick" that the vote be immediately canceled and that Grassley should support either the reopening of the FBI investigation or the withdrawal of Kavanaugh's nomination. In an NBC interview, Swetnick provided the names of four friends who went to the parties with her – however, one is deceased and another did not know her.
In November 2018, Avenatti was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) later confirmed Avenatti was arrested for felony domestic violence and his bail was set at $50,000. An LAPD spokesperson said that the unidentified victim, later described as his girlfriend, had "visible injuries" and that the case would be referred to the Los Angeles County District Attorney for prosecution. Minutes after the reports of Avenatti's arrest, the Twitter account of Surefire Intelligence, a company created by the far-right conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl, seemingly claimed responsibility for the arrest, tweeting a news story about it and adding "Surefire Intelligence strikes again."
In November 2018, a few days after his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence, Avenatti's law firm was evicted from its office in Newport Beach after skipping $213,000 worth of rent payments. In January 2019, a former client filed arbitration against Avenatti, alleging misuse of settlement funds Eagan Avenatti LLP had received in trust.
Avenatti called the allegations "completely bogus" and "fabricated and meant to do harm to my reputation." Both of his ex-wives issued statements that Avenatti had never been violent toward either of them. The county district attorney declined to press charges, and referred the case to the city attorney for possible misdemeanor charges. On February 1, 2019, the city attorney's office announced that their investigation was complete, and that Avenatti would not be charged.
In early March 2019 Daniels terminated her arrangement with Avenatti, replacing him with attorney Clark Brewster. Later that month when federal charges against Avenatti were announced, she said "Knowing what I know now about Michael, I’m saddened but not shocked regarding his arrest."
Also on March 25, 2019, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, Nicola T. Hanna, announced in Los Angeles the filing of a 197-page complaint accusing Avenatti of wire fraud and bank fraud. The indictment said that Avenatti had embezzled money from a client and had defrauded a Mississippi bank by submitting false tax returns to obtain more than $4 million in loans. Prosecutors also alleged that Avenatti had not filed personal tax returns for the years in question.
On March 25, 2019, Avenatti was arrested in New York City, and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced that they were charging Avenatti with attempting to extort up to $25 million from U.S. athletic apparel and shoe company Nike by threatening to make damaging charges against the company. Avenatti allegedly claimed that Nike improperly made payments to families of high school basketball players. The arrest came about 15 minutes after Avenatti announced that he would be holding a press conference the next day, at which he claimed he would reveal information about a high school and college basketball scandal involving Nike. During the afternoon of March 25, Avenatti and an unnamed co-conspirator were scheduled to meet with lawyers from Nike, at which prosecutors allege he would have offered to cancel the press conference in exchange for payment. Avenatti's suspected co-conspirator was identified as Mark Geragos. Avenatti was released on a $300,000 bond that evening.
The jet was later confiscated by federal agents at Santa Barbara Airport on April 10, 2019, during an asset seizure based on the tax, wire, and bankruptcy fraud indictment filed in the U.S. Central District Court of California.
On April 11, 2019, 36 additional financial crime charges were announced by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. Avenatti is accused of stealing money from clients to purchase a $5 million private jet he co-owned, as well as fraud related to tax documents and banking information. According to U.S. Attorney Hanna, "[m]oney generated from one set of crimes was used to further other crimes, typically in the form of payments designed to string along victims." The purpose of his crimes was "to prevent Mr. Avenatti’s financial house of cards from collapsing." Vowing to "fully fight" the additional charges and appealing to the public to presume his innocence, Avenatti stated on Twitter that "[f]or 20 years, I have represented Davids vs. Goliaths and relied on due process and our system of justice. Along the way, I have made many powerful enemies."
On May 22, 2019, Avenatti was charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft as a result of allegations that he stole money from former client Stormy Daniels while helping negotiate her 2018 book deal. Avenatti pleaded not guilty. Avenatti was released on a $300,000 bail bond on conditions that he notify authorities of any travel plans and that he have no contact with Daniels.
On June 3, 2019 the California State Bar filed a 573 page petition to enroll Avenatti in involuntary inactive status pending the outcome of the criminal cases and the disciplinary action which will be filed against him. The primary basis for the action was Avenatti's alleged embezzlement of $1,600,000 in funds from client Greg Barela.
On June 5, 2019, the State Bar of California filed with the California State Bar Court a 573-page application, under California Business and Professions Code section 6007(c)(2), to involuntarily enroll Avenatti as an inactive member of the bar. The State Bar Court is the court that decides whether a California attorney committed professional misconduct worthy of discipline, up to and including disbarment. The State Bar contends that the evidence submitted with the petition establishes that Avenatti has committed professional misconduct that has caused or is causing substantial harm to Avenatti's clients or to the public and that there is a substantial probability that Avenatti's professional misconduct will result in his disbarment. If the State Bar Court finds sufficient evidence to place Avenatti on involuntary inactive enrollment, the State Bar must initiate disciplinary proceedings within 45 days of the effective date of the order. If the State Bar Court rules on disbarment, the California Supreme Court must review and approve it.
Avenatti was again arrested on January 14, 2020 for violating the terms of a previous release, and was expected to appear in federal court in Santa Ana, California on January 15.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Avenatti was scheduled to face trial in New York on charges of attempting to extort millions from Nike when a federal judge in California ordered him jailed until his trial in California. Prosecutors in California accused Avenatti of violating the conditions of his release by committing a series of financial crimes while free on bond: structuring currency transactions to avoid reporting requirements and concealing his personal assets from his creditors. U.S. Marshals were prepared to take Avenatti to Manhattan as early as January 17, 2020 for his trial on the New York charges. Avenatti's trial on the California charges was scheduled for the following May. Avenatti also faced additional New York charges of wire fraud, identity theft, and embezzling almost $300,000 from Stormy Daniels, his former client.
On February 14, 2020, Avenatti was found guilty on all three counts related to the attempted extortion of Nike. He faces potentially more than 40 years in prison.