John Minchillo / AP
NEW YORK – Michael Avenatti, the tough lawyer in California who once represented Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, was sentenced on Thursday to 2 1/2 years in prison for trying to extort up to $ 25 million from Nike by threatening the company with bad publicity.
Avenatti, 50, was convicted last year of charges, including attempted extortion and honest service fraud in connection with his representation of a Los Angeles youth basketball league organizer who was upset that Nike had terminated its league sponsorship.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe called Avenatti’s behavior “outrageous” and said he “hijacked his client’s claims, and he used those claims to advance his own agenda, which was to extort millions of dollars from Nike for himself. “
Avenatti, the judge added, “had been intoxicated by the power of his platform, or whatever he perceived the power of his platform as. He had become a person who acted as if the laws and rules that applied to everyone else did not apply to ham. “
Before the judge spoke, Avenatti made emotional remarks, sometimes through tears.
“Your honor, I have learned that all the fame, notoriety and money in the world are meaningless. TV and Twitter, your honor, mean nothing,” he said.
He ended his statement by saying what he expects from his three children, including two teenage daughters who wrote letters to the judge.
“Every father wants their children to be proud of them. I want mine to be ashamed. Because if they are ashamed, it means their moral compass is exactly where it needs to be,” he said.
Avenatti was once a lawyer on the rise
Accusations of criminal fraud on two coasts disrupted Avenatti’s rapid rise to fame. He also faces the start of a fraud next week in the Los Angeles area, another criminal case in California later this year and a separate lawsuit next year in Manhattan, where he is accused of cheating Daniels out of hundreds of thousands of dollars .
Avenatti represented Daniels in 2018 in lawsuits against Trump and often appeared in cable news programs to bestow on the Republican president. Avenatti explored races against Trump in 2020, boasting that he “had no problem raising money.” Daniels said a trial with Trump a decade earlier resulted in her being paid $ 130,000 by Trump’s personal lawyer in 2016 to remain silent. Trump denied the affair.
These political hopes evaporated when prosecutors in California and New York accused Avenatti of fraud in March 2019. California prosecutors said he enjoys a $ 200,000 a month lifestyle while cheating clients out of millions of dollars and not paying hundreds of thousands to the internal Revenue Service.
Accusations that he cheated Daniels out of the proceeds of a book deal followed weeks later. Avenatti did not plead guilty to all charges.
Nike told the court that Avenatti did significant damage
Prosecutors requested a “very comprehensive” sentence, citing the U.S. Department of Corrections’ recommendation for eight years in prison. Avenatti’s lawyers said six months in prison and a year in detention were enough punishment.
On Tuesday, the judge rejected a request from Avenatti’s lawyers to release his conviction in the Nike case of extortion attempts and accusations of fraud with honest services. The judge wrote that evidence showed that Avenatti “devised an approach to Nike designed to enrich himself” rather than addressing his client’s goals.
In written criminal arguments, prosecutors said Avenatti tried to enrich himself by “arming his public profile” in an attempt to force Nike to submit to his demands.
In a statement affecting the victim, Nike’s attorneys said Avenatti caused significant damage to the company by falsely attempting to link it to a scandal in which bribes were paid to the families of NBA-bound college basketball players to lead them to powerhouse programs. . An Adidas employee, a Nike competitor, was convicted in this lawsuit.
Lawyers said Avenatti threatened to damage Nike billions of dollars and then mistakenly tweeted that criminal behavior at Nike reached the “highest levels.”
John Minchillo / AP
Avenatti’s former client, Gary Franklin Jr., said in a statement from prosecutors that Avenatti’s action had “destroyed me financially, professionally and emotionally.” Franklin was expected in court Thursday.
In their presentation, Avenatti’s lawyers said their client had suffered enough, citing enormous public shame and a difficult period in prison last year, which ended after lawyers said he was particularly vulnerable to coronavirus.
“Avenatti’s epic fall and public shame have played out in front of the whole world. The court can take legal notice of this as Avenatti’s catastrophic fall has been well documented,” the lawyers wrote.
Although prosecutors asked Gardephe to impose a $ 1 million restitution order to help cover Nike’s legal costs, Avenatti’s lawyers cited the lack of financial losses as a reason for the reduction of the fine.
“There was no financial loss to any victims, so there is no refund in this case,” they wrote. “The fact that a federal criminal case was filed despite this is in itself an important mitigating factor.”