Miami Heat

Did Michael Avenatti steal $1.5 million Heat’s Hassan Whiteside sent to an ex?

Avenatti confident he’ll be exonerated after extortion charges

Lawyer Michael Avenatti said he is confident he will be exonerated after being charged with trying to extort money from Nike.
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Lawyer Michael Avenatti said he is confident he will be exonerated after being charged with trying to extort money from Nike.

When Heat center Hassan Whiteside made a $2.75 million payment to an ex-girlfriend as part of a settlement agreement, California attorney Michael Avenatti embezzled $1.5 million to buy a private plane, a federal court indictment claims.

This accusation is but part of a 36-count indictment accusing Avenatti, the former attorney for stripper and alleged Donald Trump paramour Stormy Daniels, of bank fraud, tax fraud, wire fraud, identity theft and perjury. Avenatti will be arraigned April 29, according to the online court docket.

“I will plead not guilty and I look forward to a full adjudication of all of the relevant facts and documents,” wrote Avenatti in a Sunday email to The Herald. “I am confident justice will be done.”

In a 2:39 p.m. Tweet, Avenatti wrote in part, “I look forward to all the details coming out regarding Hassan Whiteside’s settlement, the money received by the client, the money deducted for fees and costs, etc. and the reason why he paid the money.”

This is not the indictment in New York federal court, which accuses Avenatti of trying to extort sports apparel Galactus, Nike.

Attorney Michael Avenatti delivers remarks in front of federal court after his initial appearance in an extortion case March 25 in New York. Avenatti’s accused of trying to extort $25 million from Nike by threatening the company with bad publicity. Kevin Hagen AP

Neither Whiteside nor ex-girlfriend Alexis Gardner are referred by by name in the indictment, but rather, respectively, “Individual 1” and “Client 2.” The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the Whiteside connection to the indictment earlier Sunday, put names on those designations.

Whiteside’s agent Sean Kennedy told the Herald there would be no further comment beyond the joint Whiteside-Gardner statement released to the LA Times:

“We entered into a mutually agreed upon settlement more than two years ago following the end of our relationship; a settlement that reflected Alexis’ investment of time and support over a number of years as Hassan pursued a career in the NBA. It is unfortunate that something that was meant to be kept private between us is now being publicly reported. We have both moved on amicably and wish nothing but the best for each other.”

In 2016, after a season and a half with the Heat, Whiteside signed a four-year, $98 million contract. The indictment says in December 2016 Gardner hired Avenatti and his Eagan Avenatti law firm “agreed to represent (Gardner) in connection with potential litigation against an individual with whom (Gardner) had a personal relationship.”

And, the indictment says, Avenatti did his job, reaching a settlement by Jan. 7, 2017 that said Whiteside had to pay $2.75 million to Avenatti by Jan. 28, 2017 then make another payment of $250,000 by Nov. 1, 2020 for a total of $3 million. Gardner was supposed to get the $2.75 million minus $1 million in Avenatti’s attorney’s fees, costs and expenses.

But, the indictment claims, Gardner never knew this because Avenatti never showed her a copy of the settlement agreement. Here’s a summary of the indictment’s description of the alleged ripoff:

Avenatti told Gardner told her Whiteside would make one payment that would settle his fees and costs, then eight years of monthly payments. When Whiteside sent the $2.75 million payment, on Jan. 25, 2017, Avenatti put it in his firm’s trust account. On Jan. 26, Avenatti transferred $2.5 million to the trust account of another law firm who he then told to send the money to Honda Aircraft Company. Avenatti was buying a private airplane for his company, Passport 420.

Then, between March 15, 2017 and June 18, 2018, Avenatti sent $194,000 in 11 payments to Gardner’s bank account and told Gardner the money was from Whiteside.

After Avenatti stopped making the payments, the indictment said, he “falsely represented to (Gardner) that (Whiteside) was not complying with the settlement agreement and falsely told (Gardner) that defendant Avenatti was working on obtaining the missing monthly settlement payments purportedly due to (Gardner) from (Whiteside).”

The indictment says he told Gardner on March 24, she’d be getting a payment from Whiteside that would makeup for lost time and cash.

Whiteside, 29, averaged 12.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 72 games this past season.

Whiteside holds a $27.1 million player option with the Heat for 2019-20 (the final season of his deal). Although unlikely, he said he would at least give the possibility of opting out some thought after reduced playing time over the past two seasons.

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Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.