Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who gained fame by representing porn star Stormy Daniels against President Donald Trump, has been sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over a $25 million Nike extortion scheme.
The brash California lawyer, 50, was sentenced in a Manhattan federal court on Thursday after issuing a tearful and groveling apology to the judge as he decried his fame, saying ‘TV and Twitter mean nothing’.
He will serve the 2.5 year sentence before three years of supervised release. Avenatti, who has been under house arrest, was not remanded in custody and will start his prison sentence at a later date.
Avenatti was convicted by a jury a year ago of trying to extort Nike by threatening to use his media access to hurt the brand’s reputation and stock price when he represented a Los Angeles youth basketball league organizer upset the company had ended its league sponsorship.
He was accused of threatening to expose allegations Nike was funneling payments to college basketball players unless the company paid him millions of dollars to conduct an internal investigation.
Prior to his sentencing, Avenatti told the court he had ‘betrayed’ his profession and was ‘deeply sorry’ for the pain he had caused.
‘I betrayed my profession. I became driven by the things that don’t matter in life. Over the last two years I have often to myself, why did this need to happen?’ he said.
Avenatti, who rose to fame as Stormy Daniels’ attorney, is pictured leaving a Manhattan federal court after being sentenced to 2.5 years over a $25 million Nike extortion scheme
‘I’ve learned all the fame, notoriety and money in world is meaningless. TV and Twitter mean nothing. Everyone wants to ride in a limo with you but very few are willing to sit next to you on the bus… even fewer are willing to take your calls from prison.
‘Despite the deep shame and remorse, I still feel positive because I can do better.’
Avenatti teared up as he said: ‘I look forward to working hard to become the person I once was. I will, if given a chance. But I know I will never have the privilege of practicing law again.
‘I, and I alone, have destroyed my career, my relationships, my life. There is no doubt I deserve to pay, have paid and will further pay for what I have done.
‘Someone asked me what I want my three kids to think of me. I want mine to be ashamed because if they’re ashamed it means their moral compass is exactly where it should be.’
The Manhattan US attorney’s office had urged the judge to impose a ‘very substantial’ sentence. Avenatti’s charges could have brought a sentence of up to 42 years.
Avenatti’s lawyers had argued that six months in prison and a year of home detention was enough punishment.
During his sentencing, which had been delayed seven times amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Judge Paul Gardephe said Avenatti’s conduct was ‘outrageous’.
‘He hijacked his client’s claims and he used those claims to further his own agenda, which was to extort millions of dollars from Nike for himself. He never bothered to pursue the objectives Franklin had specified,’ Gardephe said.
‘Mr Avenatti 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 rules that apply to everyone else did not apply to him. This is criminal conduct that must be deterred both specifically and generally.’
Avenatti represented Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit seeking to break a confidentiality agreement so she could speak about her alleged affair with Trump before he ran for president. He has since been charged with cheating her of $300,000
Avenatti is pictured above after being released from Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York in New York City in April 2020. He was allowed to be under house arrest with a friend in California
AVENATTI’S TEARFUL STATEMENT IN COURT:
When I was a child I dreamed about becoming a lawyer. About becoming a trial lawyer. About doing good and pursing and achieving justice. Fighting for the little guy against the goliaths. For years, I did just that but then I lost my way. I betrayed my own values, my friends, my family and myself.
I betrayed my profession. I became driven by the things that don’t matter in life. Over the last two years I have often to myself, why did this need to happen?
I’ve learned all the fame, notoriety and money in world is meaningless. TV and Twitter mean nothing. Everyone wants to ride in a limo with you but very few are willing to sit next to you on the bus… even fewer are willing to take your calls from prison.
What matters is being a good father to my children… that is the only legacy in life that matters.
I’m truly sorry for all the pain I have caused to Mr Franklin and others.
Despite the deep shame and remorse, I still feel positive because I can do better.
I look forward to working hard to become the person I once was. I will, if given a chance. But I know I will never have the privilege of practicing law again. I am forever grateful for the love and support of my family. They have showed me this love even when I least deserved it.
I am thankful for my few friends who have stood by him.
I and I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships, my life. There is no doubt I deserve to pay, have paid and will further pay for what I have done.
You can see my three children are not here today. I decided last week that I could not ask them to give me any more. I have already subjected them to so much, too much. It is a father’s job to save his children, to sacrifice for them. It should never be a child’s job to save their father.
Someone asked me what I want my three kids to think of me. I want mine to be ashamed because if they’re ashamed it means their moral compass is exactly where it should be.
Avenatti’s rapid rise to fame came crumbling down when prosecutors in both California and New York charged Avenatti with fraud in March 2019.
He also faces trial in Los Angeles later this year on fraud charges and a separate trial next year in Manhattan where he is charged with cheating his former client – porn star Stormy Daniels – of $300,000.
He represented Daniels in a lawsuit seeking to break a confidentiality agreement so she could speak about her alleged affair with Trump before he ran for president. Trump denied the affair. Avenatti became a cable news fixture in 2018 and 2019 as journalists courted him for information about Daniels and her claims of a tryst with Trump.
At his peak of notoriety, Avenatti used Twitter and TV appearances to relentlessly criticize Trump and even considered running for president himself.
His rapid ascent to fame was disrupted when he was arrested as he was about to meet Nike lawyers in March 2019.
Avenatti had approached Nike claiming to have proof that it had been paying players illegally and threatening to expose the company for it if they did not pay him up to $25million.
After the charges were revealed, Nike said it had been cooperating with an already-ongoing NCAA investigation into the issue of college basketball payments for more than a year.
At the time, Avenatti was drowning in personal debts of $10million, according to his indictment.
He had scheduled a press conference to discuss Nike’s alleged payments to the players when he was taken into custody.
Avenatti had threatened to share the allegations, whether proven or not, the night before Nike’s quarterly earnings call to drive its stock price down.
He maintained he was taking the aggressive position at the urging of his client, Gary Franklin, who ran a youth basketball league in Los Angeles and was angry that Nike ended a decadelong sponsorship that provided $72,000 annually and free gear.
He had sought $1.5 million for Franklin as well.
Avenatti was also convicted of defrauding Franklin by not telling him he was demanding a probe before agreeing to settle.
His lawyers had claimed he was following the wishes of Franklin and an entertainment executive who advised him to be aggressive to force Nike to fire corrupt executives and fix its culture.
Avenatti’s trial included multiple recordings of his attempted negotiations with Nike’s lawyers.
At his peak of notoriety, Avenatti used Twitter and TV appearances to relentlessly criticize Trump and even considered running for president himself. He is pictured above with Daniels on The View in 2018
Following his release on bond in March 2019, Avenatti took to Twitter and followed through with his threat to expose Nike. In a series of tweets, the lawyer named both DeAndre Ayton and Bol Bol as examples of players who had allegedly received improper funds from Nike
THE CHARGES AGAINST MICHAEL AVENATTI
The Nike case
Avenatti was charged in March 2019 with three counts; extortion, honest services fraud and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort.
He tried to get Nike to pay him $25million and, in exchange, said he would not expose them for alleged payments to college basketball players – something that is banned.
Nike reported him to the authorities instead.
The Stormy Daniels Case
In the second case to be filed against him in New York, Avenatti is charged with identity theft and wire fraud.
He allegedly forged Stormy Daniels’ signature to steal $300,000 in payments from her book.
He represented Daniels in her fight against Donald Trump and Michael Cohen during the 2016 presidential election when they gave her hush money to keep her allegations that she’d slept with Trump quiet.
If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.
The IRS and Justice Department Case
The most serious indictment was filed in California.
It charges Avenatti with 36 counts of tax fraud, among other crimes. If convicted, he faces 335 years behind bars in that case.
In a call to Avenatti on March 19, Nike’s lawyer managed to buy two more days to mull over the offer, at which point the US Attorney’s Office was contacted by members of the company.
That was how agents were able to hear the March 20 call between Avenatti and Nike’s lawyers.
In that recorded call, Avenatti stated he wanted ‘a million five for our guy’ and to be ‘hired to handle the internal investigation’.
He then informed the lawyers for Nike that if they were not willing to do these things ‘we’re done here’.
Avenatti later launched into an expletive-filled rant, according to the complaint.
‘I’m not f***ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,’ declared Avenatti, according to court documents.
‘[Y]ou guys know enough to know you’ve got a serious problem, and it’s worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing. I’m just being really frank with you.’
He later continued: ‘I’m not f***ing around with this thing anymore. So if you guys think that you know, we’re gonna negotiate a million five, and you’re gonna hire us to do an internal investigation, but it’s going to be capped at 3 or 5 or 7 million dollars, like let’s just be done… and I’ll go and I’ll go take 10 billion dollars off your client’s market cap.’
Following his release on bond in March 2019, Avenatti took to Twitter and followed through with his threat to expose Nike. In a series of tweets, the lawyer named both DeAndre Ayton and Bol Bol as examples of players who had allegedly received improper funds from Nike.
Ayton played a single season at the University of Arizona before becoming the first pick in the 2018 draft, while Bol Bol is the son of the late 7ft 7in NBA great Manute Bol, who died in 2010.
Avenatti claimed Bol Bol ‘and his handlers’ took ‘large sums’ to play for The University of Oregon, which is a Nike sponsored school.