Former celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti cried in court after being sentenced to 30 months in prison for his scheme to extort $25 million from athletic apparel firm Nike.
The sentence was significantly lower than the nine years at the bottom of the sentencing range under federal guidelines and did not come close to you what federal prosecutors were seeking.
Last year, the disgraced lawyer was convicted of attempted extortion and other charges connected to his representation of a youth basketball league organizer in Los Angeles who was angry that Nike stopped sponsoring it. Instead of addressing the objectives of his client, he used it as a chance to extort Nike of millions of dollars by falsely linking he company to a scandal involving bribes being paid to the families of college basketball players headed to the NBA.
The client, Gary Franklin Jr, said that Avenatti’s behavior “devastated me financially, professionally and emotionally.”
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe said Avenatti’s conduct was outrageous and that 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.”
The judge added that he “had become drunk on the power of his platform”and acted as though the laws that applied to others did not apply to him.
However, he felt the case did warrant some leniency because prosecutors failed to charge attorney Mark Geragos for the critical role that he played in the Nike scheme. Geragos first got in touch with a contact at Nike and engaged in what has been characterized as a “good cop, bad cop routine” with Avenatti in meetings and on phone calls with Nike.
The judge also commented on the “terrible” conditions in which Avenatti was held for 100 days in a Manhattan federal lockup, saying that it was difficult to believe that these conditions could be seen in the U.S. He said that he believed the attorney had expressed “severe remorse” for his actions.
Avenatti is perhaps best known for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2018 in lawsuits she filed against Donald Trump, often making appearances on cable news programs disparaging the president. Daniels alleged that an affair with Trump ten years earlier had led to a $130,000 payoff in exchange for her silence; Trump denied involvement with her.
At one point, Avenatti had even explored running against President Trump in 2020 and bragged that raising money would not be a problem. California prosecutors now claim he was living a $200,000-a month lifestyle while cheating his clients out of millions of dollars and owing hundreds of thousands to the IRS.
Avenatti had to take a few minutes to compose himself when speaking about how his conduct has affected his three children at his sentencing. He said that most people want their kids to be proud of them, but he wants his children to be ashamed of him “because if they’re ashamed, it means their moral compass is exactly what it should be.”
His legal troubles extend beyond the Nike case. He is facing the beginning of a fraud trial in L.A. next week as well as a second criminal trial later in the year in California. A separate trial will be held next year in Manhattan in which he is being charged with cheating Stormy Daniels out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In a statement to the judge ahead of his sentencing, Avenatti said: “I am truly sorry for all of the pain I caused to Mr. Franklin and others. I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships and my life. And there is no doubt I need to pay.”
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