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Owed $15 Million, Michael Avenatti’s Former Law Partner Stakes a Claim in His Seized Jet


l-r: Jason Frank, the jet and Michael Avenatti (photos: Meghann Cuniff, U.S. Attorney’s Office, CBS News screenshot)

Michael Avenatti’s former law partner says a jet seized by federal authorities in 2019 should be used to help pay the $15 million owed to him by Avenatti and his bankrupt law firm.

Jason Frank is the first to claim an interest in the aircraft under an order from Senior U.S. District Judge James V. Selna that authorized its forfeiture as part of Avenatti’s upcoming sentence for wire fraud and tax crimes in the Central District of California.

Avenatti, who’s currently imprisoned on Terminal Island near Long Beach, agreed to the forfeiture, but Selna’s preliminary order allows for others to petition him for a stake in the jet.

Frank has long sought money from Avenatti for a broken partnership agreement at Eagan Avenatti LLP, where Frank worked from 2013 to 2016.

Avenatti agreed in March 2018 to pay Frank $4.85 million as part of the firm’s bankruptcy. But he didn’t make the two payments as scheduled, so Frank obtained a $10 million judgment against the firm in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, then sued Avenatti personally in Los Angeles County Superior Court for breach of contract, seeking $4.85 million.

A judge in LA issued a $4.85 million judgment against Avenatti the same day another judge down the freeway in Orange County Superior Court evicted his law firm from its ocean-view high-rise in Newport Beach because the firm hadn’t paid its $52,235 monthly rent in four months. Avenatti didn’t attend either hearing: He was on the East Coast talking with Democrats and journalists about a possible bid for the U.S. presidency.

But as Avenatti’s presidential hopes faded, his debt to Frank only grew through accrued interest. It also allowed Frank and his counsel and current law partner Andrew Stolper, who also worked with Avenatti, to subpoena Avenatti’s bank records and question him about apparent client embezzlement in public judgment debtor examinations, one of which was attended by an Internal Revenue Service agent who was a lead investigator in his California criminal case.

In his 2021 trial, Avenatti repeatedly referenced Frank’s debt collection efforts and Stolper’s status as a former federal prosecutor who is friends with the lead trial prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Sagel, though the federal investigation originated with the IRS because it concerned Avenatti’s not paying taxes related to his Tully’s Coffee investment venture. Prosecutors asked Judge Selna to prohibit Avenatti from referencing Stolper in his retrial, but Selna never ruled on the motion because Avenatti pleaded guilty.

Frank and Stolper are partners at the law firm Frank Sims & Stolper LLP in Irvine, California, with another ex-Avenatti partner, Scott Sims. Stolper declined to comment when reached by Law&Crime on Wednesday.

Federal agents seized the jet in April 2019, surprising its co-owner, Avenatti’s former client William Parrish, at an airport in Santa Barbara. The men bought the jet in 2017 for approximately $4.3 million. As established in his California client theft case, Avenatti paid for his portion using $2.5 million he’d stolen from client Alexis Gardner’s settlement with her ex-boyfriend, NBA player Hassan Whiteside.

Parrish has not staked a claim in the jet forfeiture, but his lawyers have said they are considering their options. Frank’s petition emphasizes that the seizure occurred after he’d obtained secured liens on Eagan Avenatti and Avenatti’s property “including all property purchased with EA and/or Avenatti funds.”

“Claimant is an ‘innocent owner’ of these interests,” according to the petition. “Accordingly, the Defendant Aircraft and any proceeds from the sale of the Defendant Aircraft must be allocated in accordance with priority lien rights of EA and Avenatti’s creditors.”

Selna declared a mistrial in August 2021 after prosecutors found financial data on Avenatti’s seized law firm servers, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Avenatti’s bid to get the case dismissed, and he pleaded guilty in June to four wire fraud counts and a felony tax charge after he said plea negotiations over his 36-count indictment had failed. Frank attended the hearing.

Prosecutors say they’ll dismiss his other six wire fraud counts, but their dismissal of his remaining tax and bankruptcy charges depends on Selna imposing a sentence they believe appropriately addresses the scope of Avenatti’s crimes, which could be about 10 years.

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 31 in Santa Ana, with briefs due Oct. 12.

Read Frank full petition below:

(Images: Meghann Cuniff, U.S. Attorney’s Office, CBS News screenshot)

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A graduate of the University of Oregon, Meghann worked at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, before moving to California in 2013 to work at the Orange County Register. She spent four years as a litigation reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and one year as a California-based editor and reporter for and associated publications such as The National Law Journal and New York Law Journal before joining Law & Crime News. Meghann has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Bloomberg Law, ABA Journal, The Forward, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Laguna Beach Independent. Her Twitter coverage of federal court hearings in a lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles placed 1st in the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards for Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Journalist in 2021. An article she freelanced for Los Angeles Times Community News about a debate among federal judges regarding the safety of jury trials during COVID also placed 1st in the Orange County Press Club Awards for Best Pandemic News Story in 2021.