When Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside wired $2.75 million to celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti in January 2017 it was supposed to cover most of the settlement to prevent a potential lawsuit that had been threatened by his former girlfriend, Alexis Gardner. In the end, most of the cash—$2.5 million—went to help Avenatti buy a share of a private jet, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Gardner, an actress and barista, had hired Avenatti to help her reach a settlement with Whiteside and the two quickly came to agree on a $3 million deal. That January 2017 transfer was supposed to be the first payment. Avenatti was entitled to take a little more than $1 million in legal fees, but he did not tell Gardner about the cash. Instead, he told her client she would receive 96 monthly payments over the following eight years. Avenatti then allegedly proceeded to make 11 payments to Gardner, totaling around $194,000 before those stopped and he began claiming that Whiteside was not coming through on his end of the deal.
It isn’t clear what the lawsuit between Gardner and Whiteside would have entailed but it does seem they both wanted to keep the whole thing quiet. “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,” Whiteside and Gardner told the Los Angeles Times in a statement. “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.”
The alleged embezzlement is detailed in the April 10 indictment of Avenatti by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana, California. Last month, prosecutors unveiled a spate of criminal charges against the lawyer who rose to stardom for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels. But the 36-count indictment didn’t identify Whiteside or Gardner, only referring to them as “Individual 1” and “Client 2.” Prosecutors claim Avenatti embezzled money from five of his clients, one of whom was Gardner. Prosecutors also allege that Avenatti embezzled from Geoffrey Ernest Johnson, a mentally ill paraplegic man who won a $4 million settlement but only received $124,000 from his lawyer. He also allegedly embezzled some $4 million from Michelle Phan, a makeup artist who has a huge following on YouTube.
Avenatti, who faces a maximum penalty of 382 years in prison, denies any wrongdoing. “No monies were ever embezzled from anyone and I look forward to all of the relevant documents and facts being presented at trial,” Avenatti said in an email to the Los Angeles Times Sunday morning. Avenatti also took to Twitter Sunday to say he looks “forward to ALL of 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.”