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Avenatti Sentenced to 2 1/2 Years For Nike Extortion Pl...

Newsdeck

World

Avenatti Sentenced to 2 1/2 Years For Nike Extortion Plot

Michael Avenatti, attorney and founding partner of Eagan Avenatti LP, speaks with members of the media while exiting from federal court in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Avenatti pleaded not guilty to charges that he misappropriated thousands of dollars from his most famous client, adult-film star Stormy Daniels, as the embattled attorney's legal troubles pile up from coast to coast. Avenatti was arrested in New York in March and charged with extorting millions of dollars from Nike Inc.
By Bloomberg
08 Jul 2021 0

(Bloomberg) --Michael Avenatti was sentenced to 2 1/2 years behind bars for attempting to extort $25 million from Nike Inc., marking a steep fall for a celebrity lawyer who shot to national attention by styling himself as a foil to former President Donald Trump when he was in office.

By Erik Larson
Jul 8, 2021, 8:50 PM – Updated on Jul 8, 2021, 9:14 PM
Word Count: 807
U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Mahattan handed down the prison term Thursday following a long delay due to the pandemic. Avenatti, 50, was found guilty on all counts in February 2020 following a three-week trial.

“Mr. Avenatti’s conduct was outrageous,” the judge said before announcing the sentence. He became “drunk on the power of his platform, or what he believed the power of his platform to be,” Gardephe said. The judge ordered Avenatti to surrender to prison authorities by Sept. 15.

The sentence was significantly lower than what the government sought. Gardephe said a lower sentence was warranted due to the miserable conditions Avenatti endured while locked up in a Manhattan jail before trial, as well as the government’s decision not to charge his alleged co-conspirator in the case, even though he was central to the crime.

But the jail term is not the end of the legal woes for Avenatti, who was a fixture on cable news networks in 2018 while he represented adult film star Stormy Daniels and even weighed a run for the White House.

Lawyer Michael Avenatti Attends Court
Michael Avenatti, attorney and founding partner of Eagan Avenatti LP, speaks with members of the media while exiting from federal court in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Avenatti pleaded not guilty to charges that he misappropriated thousands of dollars from his most famous client, adult-film star Stormy Daniels, as the embattled attorney’s legal troubles pile up from coast to coast. Avenatti was arrested in New York in March and charged with extorting millions of dollars from Nike Inc.
He’s due to go on trial again this month in California where he’s accused of defrauding clients and ripping off banks. And early next year a third trial is scheduled in Manhattan on federal charges alleging he stole Daniels’s book advance. He has denied wrongdoing in all the cases.

The California lawyer, wearing a dark suit and a mask, hugged a few family members as he entered court for the sentencing, chatting casually with them. But he broke down as he implored the judge to show leniency before the sentencing.

“I betrayed my own values, my friends, my family and myself,” he told the judge, crying. “I betrayed my profession. I became driven by things that don’t matter in life.”

The Probation Office had calculated that Avenatti should spend 11 to 14 years in prison under current guidelines. Avenatti had asked in a court filing for no more than six months.

Avenatti was charged in March 2019 after he met with Nike attorneys to discuss claims by his then-client, a youth basketball coach, that the company bribed top players to attend colleges with Nike-sponsored teams. The U.S. said he threatened to make the claims public if Nike didn’t pay him as much as $25 million to investigate the alleged corruption.

The jury didn’t buy Avenatti’s defense that he had merely engaged in tough negotiations on behalf of his client, who wanted him to “take on” Nike.

Defense lawyer Danya Perry spoke to the court before the sentence was handed down, describing Avenatti as a devoted father of three who was known for working hard for his clients before his career imploded.

“He certainly has lost his way, and he knows that,” Perry said, adding that her client is in particular ashamed of the secret tape recordings of his attempt to shake down Nike, which were played for the jury during trial.

“I know how those tape recordings sound,” Perry said. “They almost made my skin crawl.”

Avenatti gained a national profile while representing Daniels in a suit against Trump, making regular television appearances to bash the president and his former fixer, Michael Cohen, over a hush-money payment to his client before the 2016 election.

According to the conservative-leaning media-tracking site NewsBusters, in the year ending April 2019 Avenatti made 254 appearances on cable news networks — 122 on CNN and 108 on MSNBC.

He still has almost 700,000 followers on Twitter, supporters who ate up his pugilistic style, frequently proclaiming him a hero who would take down Trump.

“All the fame, notoriety and money in the world is meaningless,” Avenatti told the judge Thursday, prior to his sentencing. “TV and Twitter, your honor, are meaningless.”

Trump had called Avenatti a “third-rate lawyer” and a “total low life” in a Twitter posting.

The public clash led to early claims by the brash lawyer that Trump’s Justice Department had set him up to silence a critic, but that allegation was rejected early on by the judge. Jurors were never presented with that defense.

After the verdict, Avenatti asked for a new trial, alleging misconduct by prosecutors and errors in what kind of evidence was allowed by the judge. Gardephe rejected the request on July 6, ruling the jury wouldn’t have been affected by any of the conduct.

Read More: Avenatti Wants White House Emails to Prove He’s Been Framed

The case is U.S. v. Avenatti, 19-cr-373, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

(Updates with judge’s comment in fourth paragraph)

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