High-profile attorney Michael Avenatti is facing a looming deadline to pay an estimated $1.5 million in spousal and child support back payments to his estranged wife as part of an increasingly contentious divorce dispute, according to court records.
Estranged wife Lisa Storie took the forceful step this week of serving a judgment debtor’s notice, after Avenatti -- according to her claim -- violated a temporary settlement agreement she reached with him less than a month ago.
If Avenatti fails to appear at a hearing in response to a judgment debtor’s notice, he could face severe consequences, including the issuance by a judge of a bench warrant for his arrest.
That hearing is currently scheduled for Dec. 28, according to Storie. Court records indicate that the divorce proceedings have been unfolding for more than a year.
Avenatti is a professional race car driver and ubiquitous cable news presence, who is representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels in at least two lawsuits involving President Donald Trump.
He has appeared frequently on television news programs, tangled with the president on social media and briefly flirted publicly with the prospect of running for president himself in 2020.
Avenatti’s visibility on the national stage has grown substantially in the past year. Yet in roughly the same time frame, his personal and professional legal disputes seem to have been steadily dragging him towards a significant financial reckoning.
In a series of interviews with ABC News this week, Storie has reiterated allegations she has made in court documents.
In separate communications with ABC News, largely via text messages, Avenatti has vehemently, if broadly, refuted the majority of these claims.
Avenatti declined an ABC News request for any available records or documentation to support his contentions.
Avenatti has, in the past, filed court documents challenging attempts by Storie’s attorneys to access his financial records and tax returns, describing the requests in filings as “unduly burdensome” and “vague.”
Storie said she directed her attorneys to take the aggressive legal action against Avenatti after months of fruitless efforts to settle and finalize the divorce.
“It has been extremely difficult, as Michael has not participated in this divorce for a year,” Storie said in a series of interviews in which she agreed only to address questions about the legal proceedings.
“He was ordered by a judge in April to provide bank records and tax returns, which were never received,” she said.
Indeed, at least twice in the past year, most recently in October, a court has ordered him to turn over the financial documents, according to court records.
After Avenatti failed to meet a June deadline to produce the financial records, the judge admonished him in absentia in a July 16 hearing at which Avenatti did not appear.
“[T]he court notes that it is not appropriate to turn a blind eye that none of the requests have been complied with by the petitioner,” the judge said, according to minutes of the hearing recorded by a court reporter.
“There are no tax returns, bank statements, no income and expense declarations, no preliminary declaration of disclosure and no financial documents. The petitioner was ordered to produce the documents by 6/22/18.”
Storie said that a previously scheduled judgment debtor’s notice hearing earlier this month was cancelled because the estranged couple had reached an eleventh-hour temporary agreement, signed on Nov. 30.
The agreement, reviewed by ABC News, stipulates that Avenatti would sign over community property to Storie -- including artwork and high-priced watches – as well as paying her two installments of $40,000 each, the first of which Storie said was due by December 3.
Storie said this week that Avenatti already has violated the temporary agreement the two reached less than two weeks ago.
In a statement to ABC News, Storie said that the first $40,000 has not been received and that, as a result, she directed her attorneys this weekend to file the judgment debtor’s notice.
“The main thrust of the agreement was to establish support payments while we worked towards discussing a settlement,” Storie said in the statement.
“The agreement has since been breached, as no support payment has been received.”
Avenatti this week declined to respond to each of Storie’s allegations, but provided ABC News with a broader statement defending himself and challenging some of the claims Storie has made in court records and in interviews with ABC News.
“People claim all kinds of things in divorce proceedings, many of which are completely false,” Avenatti’s statement begins. “I do not owe any money for support or otherwise in my divorce…Not one penny. Lisa has received far more money and support than 99.9 percent of ex wives in America, especially seeing as this was not a lengthy marriage.”
The couple were married in January, 2011 and separated in October of last year, court records show.
In his statement, Avenatti went on to say that “I have actively participated in the divorce and any claim to the contrary is nonsense.”
“I desperately want the divorce over.”
Storie and Avenatti’s divorce proceedings had been unfolding quietly over the past year.
But a new window into the hard-charging attorney’s spectrum of legal entanglements opened recently when an item on the gossip website TMZ wrongly claimed that Storie had accused Avenatti of domestic violence.
It was, in fact, another woman who filed a police report accusing Avenatti of domestic violence -- a claim which Avenatti has repeatedly and strenuously denied.
No charges have been filed against him over the alleged incident, according to California officials.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, which handles felony level cases, declined to bring charges and passed it to the City Attorney -- which traditionally handles misdemeanor complaints.
A spokesperson for that office told ABC News in an email Wednesday that the matter is “still under review.”
The brief spotlight on Storie has drawn attention to her as one of multiple people claiming in court documents that Avenatti owes them money.
Last month, a Los Angeles judge ordered Avenatti to pay former law firm partner Jason Frank just over $5 million as part of a 2017 settlement agreement between Avenatti’s former law firm, Eagan Avenatti & Frank, according to court records.
In July, a bankruptcy judge had ordered Avenatti’s former law firm, Eagan Avenatti, to pay $10 million to Frank after the firm and Avenatti failed to make the initial payment on a $4.85 million settlement, which has since grown with interest to more than $5 million, according to a Nov. 20 order signed by a California state judge.
Frank’s efforts to collect from Avenatti remain ongoing, according to state court records.
Avenatti told ABC News late last month that he intends to appeal that order and said that he is “confident it will be overturned.”
Avenatti is also currently involved in at least two other financial disputes with former legal colleagues, according to court records.
Both parties in the family court dispute declined requests by ABC News to detail the arc of their relationship, but brief outlines of the couple’s personal history emerged in comments Storie made in recent days to ABC News, and in an interview with a longtime friend of Storie.
"3A and 3B"
Avenatti and Storie’s paths crossed in the first-class cabin of an airplane, according to Storie’s friend, Kathy Luketich, who was one of Storie's wedding attendants and has known Avenatti for nearly a decade.
By chance, Avenatti and Storie were seated beside each other in the first-class cabin of an airplane, Luketich said.
A romance ensued.
A year later, the couple flew their closest friends to a destination wedding.
The wedding theme was “3A and 3B" –- the fortuitous seat assignments that brought the pair together, according to Luketich.
Avenatti declined to confirm the circumstances under which the relationship began.
In 2014, the couple welcomed a son into the world.
In detailed declarations from the divorce proceedings, Storie described a charmed lifestyle: private planes, nannies and assistants, even his and hers Ferraris.
“We traveled extensively throughout the world,” she wrote, “and when not flying privately, we always flew business class and stayed in five-star hotels.”
Yet by 2017, the relationship had soured.
By October 2017, two months before Storie filed for divorce, Avenatti, 47, had moved in with Mareli Miniutti, 24, in a luxury apartment building in Century City, according to a declaration filed in court by Miniutti.
Miniutti, who has publicly identified herself as the victim in the alleged domestic violence incident, described Avenatti to police as her “boyfriend,” according to the declaration.
’Stay out of the divorce’
In January, Storie filed a new declaration asking a family court judge to require a nanny to accompany their son on any visits with his father, according to court records.
The declaration cited an incident in which Storie alleged that Avenatti sent their then-3-year-old son back home to her, with only his chauffeur, and without a car seat.
In text message responses to ABC News, Avenatti broadly denied ever neglecting any child of his -- and noted in his own court filings that he has raised his daughters from a previous marriage without assistance from a nanny or any other support staff.
In a declaration filed five days after Storie’s, Avenatti contended that “the conditions [Storie] is placing on me are not reasonable and not necessary.”
A month after Storie filed her declaration in court about their son, Avenatti -- using an email address that matches the one he has used previously to communicate with ABC News reporters – the attorney sent a group email to a number of Storie’s friends, urging them to “stay out of the divorce.”
The email, a copy of which was reviewed by ABC News, concludes: “if my asking is not sufficient, please do so out of self interest in order to avoid being deposed in the case under oath or having to testify at trial.”
Avenatti also said this week that “I don’t know what you’re talking about” in response to a request to confirm he sent the email.
He declined to respond to a follow-up question restating the contents of the email and asking again whether he had sent it.
Still, in April, 2018, the two parties seemed to have made some headway towards resolving the support issues.
Avenatti and Storie entered into a temporary agreement for him to provide her with nearly $40,000 a month in family support –- a combination of spousal and child support, as well as paying her attorney and accounting fees, according to court records.
The agreement also stipulated that Avenatti disclose all of his personal and corporate bank statements and his 2016 and 2017 tax returns. Storie said those documents have yet to be delivered.
Then, in July, an Orange County Superior Court judge ordered Avenatti to pay Storie $31,981 per month in child support and $124,398 per month in spousal support, retroactive to January of this year, according to court records. Avenatti was also ordered again to pay Storie’s attorney and accounting fees.
To date, according to court records, Avenatti has paid $271,500 towards child support, but nothing towards either spousal support or Storie’s legal fees.
An attorney for Storie confirmed the accuracy of calculations made by ABC News which suggest that Avenatti currently owes Storie an estimated additional $1.5 million.
‘Your math is way off’
Yet Avenatti disputed the figure in a text message, contending that “your math is way off.”
He cited the existence of what he described as a community bank account containing $900,000, which he said Storie had access to, along with “numerous other assets” that he said that Storie had received over the course of the proceedings.
Storie disputed this contention.
“I filed for divorce in November 2017,” she said.
“From November 2017 to May 2018, Michael did not pay any form of support. There was and is no joint account with $900,000. The number is absolutely absurd. I did have personal savings that I used to support us.”
A review by ABC News of the court filings in the divorce case did not turn up any indication or reference to a community bank account or any similar asset, but Avenatti noted in his statement on Wednesday that “not all of our accounts are documented in the public record.”
“Lisa has not earned an income in 5 years – how could she possibly afford her lifestyle if I wasn’t paying for it?” the statement reads.
“The money had to have come from somewhere. All of this is of course on top of the nearly one million I invested in her business.”
Avenatti’s statement went on to contend that “I have provided her and our son a tremendous life both before our separation and over the last year, all as a result of my earnings and support payments (not to mention the nearly $1 million she used from community funds after our separation)."
“Among other things, she has enjoyed two FULL TIME nannies to raise our one son even though she does not work full time. This money did not come from her savings, which was minimal – it came solely from my income.”
Storie challenged this account this week, reiterating that the money she has spent on divorce attorneys and other costs related to the divorce came from her own savings. She again denied the existence of what Avenatti described as community funds accessible by both parties.
She denied having two full-time nannies but acknowledged that she does "have help raising my son alone."
Avenatti requested privacy, saying that he and Storie are working together to resolve the differences.
Storie said she agreed to speak to ABC News, after initially declining to do so, out of frustration with what she characterized as Avenatti’s intransigence in settling the divorce. Her interviews for this story are the first extensive comments she has made on the divorce proceedings since their inception.
Storie said that no new payments beyond the $271,500 have been made by Avenatti.
Asked whether he had paid any family support after that initial, six-figure payment, Avenatti declined to comment.
Storie declined to discuss her personal life, but her LinkedIn profile, which she confirmed is accurate, indicates that she runs a resort wear company and recently joined a ride-hailing app company called Tryp, as an advisory board member.
Her profile lists a Masters of Business Administration degree from the University of California, Irvine.
Storie declined to comment on her net worth. Avenatti’s net worth also remains unclear.
Yet he has insinuated great wealth in publicly promoting himself as an attorney who has won “over $1 billion in [civil] verdicts and settlements as lead counsel.”
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