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Avenatti Makes First Court Appearance In Federal Fraud Case

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — Embattled celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti made his first court appearance in Santa Ana Monday.

He's battling two federal cases. One on each coast. Avenatti appeared briefly in court to answer two federal charges in California. He's accused of filing bogus tax returns to get millions of dollars in loans.

The federal complaint filed in the Central District of California alleges Avenatti pocketed the entire $1.6 million initial payout in a 2018 intellectual property case without giving his client any of the money.

Avenatti spoke about that client in an interview with CBS This Morning.

"The client who is accusing me of embezzlement is currently on felony probation in California," said Avenatti. "You know what he was convicted of? Multiple counts of obtaining money under false pretenses. It turns out, and I didn't know this at the time, that he has an extensive criminal background and rap sheet. Nowhere does that appear on the complaint."

The complaint also alleges Avenatti gave a bank in Mississippi fake personal income tax returns claiming he made more than $14 million in 2011-2013 -- while the IRS says Avenatti didn't file any income tax returns in those years.

The outspoken lawyer who became known when he represented Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, in a lawsuit against Donald Trump, is also charged in a separate federal case in New York.

This one involves allegations he tried to extort Nike. The separate complaint filed in New York alleges Avenatti was threatening to hold a news conference to go public with allegations that Nike employees were providing illegal payments to the families of high school athletes.

In federal court Monday, Avenatti waived his right to a preliminary hearing and his attorney told the judge Avenatti may choose to not be present at his arraignment scheduled for late next month.

"I am highly confident that when the process plays out, that justice will be done. I appreciate it," Avenatti said outside the Santa Ana Federal Building after his court appearance.

Avenatti made an almost identical statement in New York. Although in New York he said he was confident he would be totally and completely exonerated.

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