NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Avenatti jumped at the chance to represent porn star Stormy Daniels in 2018, saying he’d do it for a dollar, another California attorney testified Wednesday at Avenatti's criminal trial.
The testimony by the lawyer, Sean Ernesto Macias, was expected to set the stage for Daniels to take the witness stand on Thursday.
Avenatti took over representation of himself from other lawyers on Tuesday as he asserts his innocence against wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges filed by prosecutors who claim Avenatti cheated Daniels of nearly $300,000 she was owed from a book deal.
Avenatti, 50, denies it, saying it was always understood that he would share in the proceeds of some of Daniels’ projects, including the writing of her autobiography, particularly because an agreement the pair signed only required Daniels to pay him $100.
Macias, who peppered his hour of testimony with colorful answers, drew laughter throughout the Manhattan courtroom when he identified Avenatti by saying: “He's the handsome fellow with the shaved head.”
But, at other times, he seemed so emotional that he paused before answering to collect himself, saying at one point: “I still feel bad for him in a weird way.”
Macias said he'd known Daniels for several years when she reached out to him in 2018 to seek legal representation to change the terms of her $130,000 deal made shortly before the 2016 presidential election to be silent about her claims that she'd had a sexual tryst with then-President Donald Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied it.
Macias said he was with Avenatti one day when he mentioned that Daniels was “blowing up my phone” over the subject.
“I might be interested in this,” he recalled Avenatti telling him.
He said he believed that Daniels just wanted to alter her deal so she could speak publicly about her encounter with Trump and receive more money, but Avenatti “wanted to go big” with an appearance on CBS's “60 Minutes."
“He told her: ‘I’ll charge you a dollar,'" Macias recalled.
A prosecutor, Mathew Podolsky, asked Macias if Avenatti thanked him for introducing him to Daniels. The lawyer said Avenatti gave him a Cartier watch in the summer of 2018. But by Labor Day weekend, Avenatti appeared deflated and melancholy at a Las Vegas convention for lawyers.
“He seemed a little more agitated than he normally was and he seemed a little needy,” Macias said.
“I said: ‘What happened to you?’” Macias recalled.
Avenatti responded: “She's going crazy,” referring to Daniels, Macias said.
He said Avenatti claimed the book publisher hadn't paid her as scheduled on her $800,000 advance, that Daniels was considering speaking publicly about her complaints and “she's going to blow this deal up.”
Prosecutors have told jurors that Avenatti was pocketing payments destined for her, funneling some of the money into his law practice's payroll expenses and personal expenses.
“He wanted me to represent her to sue the book publishing company,” Macias said.
Then, days later, Avenatti showed up at his office saying he was “jammed up and needed help” because he was about to be evicted from his law office space and needed help meeting his payroll, he said.
“I was shocked he needed money,” Macias said, noting that Avenatti was appearing regularly at the time on cable television news programs.
Avenatti said he needed someone to loan him $250,000, Macias said.
Macias said he located a lawyer, Mark Geragos, willing to loan Avenatti that amount.
“He referred to him as ‘El Presidente’ and said, ‘Why not?’” Macias said.
Geragos did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
When Avenatti cross examined Macias, he asked him if he'd had alcohol or drugs in the day before his testimony and if he was “incredibly excited” when Avenatti was considering running for president.
Macias recalled that he drank a glass of champagne on Tuesday. And, of the quest for the presidency, he testified: “You wanted me to be chief of staff. I said: ‘Make me ambassador to France. That’d be awesome!'"