A tearful, repentant Michael Avenatti, the brash lawyer who once represented Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against president Donald Trump, has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for trying to extort up to $US25 million ($33.6 million) from Nike by threatening the company with bad publicity.
- Avenatti threatened Nike he would damage its reputation and stock price unless it paid him millions
- He is still facing other legal issues for allegedly stealing money from clients
- Avenatti said he had destroyed his career, relationships and family
Avenatti, 50, rose to prominence by sparring publicly with Mr Trump, but criminal fraud charges on both coasts of the US disrupted his rapid ascent.
Avenatti was convicted for threatening to expose the sportswear company’s alleged corrupt payments to families of college basketball prospects, unless it paid up to $US25 million for him and another lawyer to conduct a probe.
Recordings showed Avenatti telling Nike lawyers he would “blow the lid” on the company and wipe $US10 billion off its stock market value unless it bowed to his demands. The company has denied any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors said Avenatti was counting on a big payday to cover his own debts.
US District Judge Paul G Gardephe called Avenatti’s conduct “outrageous,” saying he “hijacked his client’s claims” and “used those claims to further his own agenda, which was to extort millions of dollars from Nike for himself”.
Avenatti, the judge added, “had become drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived the power of his platform to be. He had become someone who operated as if the laws and the rules that applied to everyone else didn’t apply to him”.
Before the judge spoke, Avenatti delivered emotional remarks, sometimes choking up and speaking through tears. “I and I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships and my life,” he said.
“Your Honour, I’ve learned that all the fame, notoriety and money in the world is meaningless. TV and Twitter, your Honour, mean nothing,” he said.
He ended his statement by saying he expects his three children, including two teenage daughters who wrote letters to the judge, to be ashamed of him.
“Because if they are ashamed, it means their moral compass is exactly where it should be,” he said.
As he left the courthouse, he stopped briefly before a set of microphones while his lawyer, Danya Perry, told reporters: “A new Michael Avenatti is deeply humbled as a result of this experience.”
The judge agreed, noting that Avenatti had not shown contrition or accepted responsibility for his crimes until his sentencing, when he expressed “what I believe to be sincere remorse”.
The judge also said conditions were “terrible” at the Manhattan federal lockup where Avenatti spent 100 days behind bars last year, mostly in solitary confinement. He said it was hard to believe such conditions would occur in the US.
Avenatti’s legal woes are far from over. He also faces the start of a fraud trial next week in the Los Angeles area, a second California criminal trial later this year and a separate trial next year in Manhattan, where he is charged with cheating Daniels out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Avenatti represented Daniels in 2018 in lawsuits against Mr Trump, appearing often on cable news programs to disparage the Republican president. Daniels said a tryst with Mr Trump a decade earlier resulted in her being paid $US130,000 by Mr Trump’s personal lawyer in 2016 to stay silent. Mr Trump denied the affair.
Avenatti even explored running against Mr Trump in 2020, boasting that he would “have no problem raising money.”
Those political aspirations evaporated when prosecutors in California and New York charged Avenatti with fraud in March 2019. California prosecutors said he was enjoying a $US200,000-a-month lifestyle while cheating clients out of millions of dollars and failing to pay hundreds of thousands to the Internal Revenue Service.
Charges alleging he cheated Daniels out of proceeds from a book deal followed weeks later. Avenatti pleaded not guilty to all charges and maintained he was a victim of politically motivated attacks.
Ms Perry told the judge that recordings of Avenatti’s profanity-laced threats to Nike lawyers made her “skin crawl,” but she said she also felt mean-spirited backlash from people who expressed hated toward her client.