Michael Avenatti, whose starring role as Stormy Daniels’ pugnacious lawyer ended two years ago in a flurry of criminal charges, was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison on Thursday for attempting to extort Nike Inc. for over $ 20 million.
Mr Avenatti, 50, was sentenced after a jury trial in February 2020 on the three counts he faced: extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extortion and wire fraud . The case arose out of Mr. Avenatti’s threats to expose alleged corruption in Nike’s elite basketball program, unless the clothing giant pays him to conduct an internal investigation.
Before sentencing, US District Judge Paul Gardephe called Mr. Avenatti’s conduct scandalous and said he was acting as if the laws that apply to everyone do not apply to him.
“Mr. Avenatti had become intoxicated with the power of his platform,” Justice Gardephe said in a federal courtroom in Manhattan.
When Mr. Avenatti is released from prison, he will face three years of supervised release, Judge Gardephe ordered.
LA celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti prison: 2.5 years Nike extortion case
A New York judge on Thursday sentenced combative Los Angeles lawyer Michael Avenatti to 2.5 years in prison for attempting to extort up to $ 25 million from Nike by threatening to use his popularity to harm the market. company reputation.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe announced the sentence in Manhattan, where a jury in early 2020 found Avenatti guilty of charges including attempted extortion and fraud of honest services for his dealings with the company. .
US District Judge Paul G. Gardephe called Avenatti’s conduct “scandalous,” saying he “hijacked his client’s claims and used those claims to advance his own agenda, which was extort millions of dollars from Nike for himself ”.
Avenatti, added the judge, “had become intoxicated with the power of his platform, or what he perceived to be the power of his platform. He had become someone who functioned as if the laws and rules that applied to everyone did not apply to him.
Avenatti, 50, rose to fame for representing pornstar Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump.
Avenatti was convicted of attempting to extort up to $ 25 million from the Beaverton, Oregon-based sportswear giant while representing an organizer of the Los Angeles Youth Basketball League. Angeles. Nike had ended its sponsorship of the league.
Charges of criminal fraud on two coasts disrupted Avenatti’s rapid rise to fame. Regardless of the outcome of Thursday’s hearing, he faces the start of a fraud trial next week in Orange County, a second criminal trial in California later this year and another trial next year in Manhattan. , where he is accused of deceiving Daniels out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Avenatti, 50, represented Daniels in 2018 in lawsuits against Trump, often appearing on cable news programs to disparage the Republican president. Avenatti explored the possibility of running against Trump in 2020, boasting that he “would have no problem raising money.” Daniels said a date with Trump a decade earlier earned him $ 130,000 through Trump’s personal attorney in 2016 to remain silent. Trump has denied the matter.
Those political aspirations evaporated when prosecutors in California and New York City charged Avenatti with fraud in March 2019. California prosecutors said he was enjoying a lifestyle of $ 200,000 a month while cheating million dollar customers and not paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in-house. Revenue Service.
Charges alleging he cheated Daniels over the proceeds of a book deal followed weeks later. Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Prosecutors had called for a “very heavy” sentence, citing the US Probation Department’s recommendation of an eight-year prison sentence. Avenatti’s lawyers said six months in jail and one year in house arrest was sufficient punishment.
In written submissions on the sentence, prosecutors said Avenatti attempted to enrich himself by “militarizing his public profile” in an attempt to force Nike to comply with his demands.
In a victim impact statement, Nike attorneys said Avenatti caused considerable harm to the company by falsely trying to link it to a scandal in which bribes were paid to the families of college basketball players linked to the NBA to steer them towards powerful programs. An Adidas employee, a competitor of Nike, was convicted in the lawsuit.
Lawyers said Avenatti threatened to cause billions of dollars in damage to Nike, then falsely tweeted that criminal conduct at Nike had reached “the highest levels.”
Former Avenatti client Gary Franklin Jr. said in a statement submitted by prosecutors that Avenatti’s action had “devastated me financially, professionally and emotionally.” Franklin was due in court on Thursday.
In their brief, Avenatti’s lawyers said their client had suffered enough, citing enormous public disgrace and a difficult stint in prison last year that ended after lawyers said he was particularly vulnerable. to coronavirus.
“Avenatti’s epic downfall and public disgrace unfolded in front of the world. The Court can take note of this fact, as Avenatti’s cataclysmic fall has been well documented, ”the lawyers wrote.
Although prosecutors have asked Gardephe to impose a $ 1 million restitution order to help cover Nike’s legal costs, Avenatti’s lawyers have cited lack of financial loss as grounds for leniency.
“There was no financial loss for the victims, so there is no compensation in this case,” they wrote. “The fact that a federal white-collar criminal case was initiated despite this fact is in itself a significant mitigating factor. ”
Former Trump slayer Michael Avenatti sentence: 30 months in prison
This is the latest episode in the fall of this high-profile lawyer, who in 2018 was a relentless tormentor of Donald Trump, when he represented pornstar Stormy Daniels who claimed to have had a brief affair with the New York tycoon.
The stripper – Stephanie Clifford, whose real name is – had sued the President of the United States to have a confidentiality agreement rescinding him forbidding him to speak about this adventure which would have taken place before the election of Donald Trump to the presidency.
Michael Avenatti, 50, then became the spearhead of the anti-Trump protest, increasing his interventions in front of the cameras and on social networks. Some even suspected him of preparing for a presidential run.
But in March 2019, the shaven-headed lawyer was arrested for attempted extortion against sports equipment manufacturer Nike, as well as for tax evasion.
Investigators say Michael Avenatti has asked company executives to pay him several million dollars to dissuade him from releasing potentially compromising information relating to comma brand breaches in recruiting college basketball players.
At Thursday’s hearing, Avenatti, known to be hyperactive and a racing driver in his spare time, was contrite. “Me and I alone have ruined my career, my relationships and my life,” Manhattan federal attorney Paul Gardephe told reporters in the room.
“Mr. Avenatti’s behavior has been scandalous,” the judge concluded, saying the lawyer had become “drunk” with the power gained by his public postures.
Los Angeles-based Mr. Avenatti’s legal troubles are not over.
He will face further fraud charges in California court, at the expense of his clients or the tax authorities, and in New York City charges of embezzlement of funds intended for Stormy Daniels.
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