Attorney Who Arranged Hush Money From Trump Sentenced to Prison
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who pressured former President Donald Trump to pay a settlement to a stripper, was sentenced to 30 months in prison yesterday for trying to extort millions of dollars from sportswear company Nike Inc.
He is scheduled to stand additional trials soon on separate charges of defrauding adult film star Stormy Daniels and other clients.
During his sentencing in federal court in New York, U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe said the now disbarred attorney took advantage of the celebrity status he gained while representing Daniels.
“Mr. Avenatti’s conduct was outrageous,” Judge Gardephe said. “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, 50, is scheduled to report to prison on Sept. 15. The judge also ordered him to serve three years of supervised release.
However, he denied Nike’s request for $1 million in restitution, saying the company cited incorrect law for its claim. The judge gave Nike another chance to make its restitution case but suggested using a different legal strategy.
Avenatti was representing youth basketball league coach Gary Franklin when he demanded a $1.5 million settlement from Nike for his client.
Franklin had become a whistleblower against Nike. He said Nike employees told him to pay tens of thousands of dollars to the parents of three young basketball recruits who had the potential to become professional athletes, potentially bringing high-profile endorsements to the company.
Avenatti also demanded that Nike pay as much as $25 million for him and fellow attorney Mark Geragos to investigate allegations against the company. Geragos was not charged with wrongdoing.
Prosecutors, along with the jury that convicted Avenatti, described the demand for payments as extortion. He also was convicted of transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort and honest services wire fraud.
Avenatti accepted responsibility for his behavior in a statement to the court.
“Your honor, I have learned that all the fame, notoriety and money in the world are meaningless,” Avenatti said. “TV and Twitter mean nothing.”
At the height of his fame, Avenatti briefly considered seeking the Democratic nomination for president.
The U.S. Probation Department had recommended an eight-year prison term for Avenatti.
He argued for leniency in a sentencing memorandum to the court, asking for no more than six months of jail time and a year of home confinement.
He said he already endured punishment for his crime, which included an “epic fall” from grace. He also said he was subjected to “brutal punishment” in pretrial solitary confinement.
As the Nike trial concluded, prosecutors in California are preparing a second case against Avenatti that accuses him of defrauding clients out of settlement money as well as tax fraud, bank fraud and bankruptcy fraud.
In New York, he faces charges that he embezzled about $300,000 from Daniels by forging a letter authorizing advance fees from her publisher to be sent to him. Her 2018 memoir that includes discussion of her association with Trump is called “Full Disclosure.”
Daniels received $130,000 from Trump in what appeared to be hush money just before the 2016 presidential election. She said she had sex with him.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said Avenatti used threats and betrayed his client’s trust to get millions of dollars for himself.
“Not only did Avenatti attempt to weaponize his law license and celebrity to seek to extort payments for himself, he also defrauded his own client,” Strauss said in a statement.
Nike released a brief statement after the sentencing that said, “The verdict and sentence speak for themselves.”
The case is U.S. v. Avenatti in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.