A Manhattan federal judge has sentenced lawyer Michael Avenatti to 30 months in prison for trying to extort over $20 million from Nike, the first of several legal battles for an attorney who rose to fame representing Stormy Daniels and clashing with former President Donald Trump.
Judge Paul Gardephe sentenced Avenatti to 2.5 years in prison plus 3 years of supervised release for extortion and fraud charges Thursday, more than a year after the outspoken attorney was convicted for threatening to accuse Nike of corruption unless the apparel company agreed to pay him eight figures.
Gardephe called Avenatti’s behavior “outrageous,” arguing he abused his power and exploited a client who was unhappy with Nike as a “convenient pawn” to pursue his own ends, but he said Avenatti seemed to show remorse and questioned the conduct of Mark Geragos, another lawyer who was linked to Avenatti but wasn’t charged.
Prosecutors had asked Gardephe to give Avenatti a large sentence, claiming Avenatti “sought to enrich himself by weaponizing his public profile in an attempt to extort a publicly-traded company out of tens of millions of dollars.”
Avenatti’s lawyers had asked for just six months behind bars plus a year of home confinement, arguing he won’t turn into a repeat offender because his “epic fall and public shaming has played out in front of the entire world.”
In a tearful statement in court Thursday, Avenatti said he’s “truly sorry” and “deeply humbled,” and understands he will likely never practice law again.
“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,” Avenatti told the court Thursday afternoon. “I’ve learned that all the fame, notoriety and money in the world is meaningless. TV and Twitter … mean nothing.”
What To Watch For
Lawyers for Avenatti have indicated in the past that they plan on appealing his conviction. Avenatti argues he was working on his client’s behalf to aggressively negotiate a settlement and root out corruption at Nike.
A pugnacious lawyer and vocal Trump foe, Avenatti became a cable news fixture after he signed on to represent Daniels, who was seeking to end a nondisclosure deal prohibiting her from discussing an affair she says she had with Trump. But his star power rapidly faded by 2019, when federal prosecutors charged him in three different criminal cases. In the Nike case, prosecutors say Avenatti demanded Nike pay him at least $15 million to lead an internal investigation into the company, in addition to paying $1.5 million to his client, an amaetur basketball coach whose program previously had a sponsorship deal with Nike. If Nike’s lawyers didn’t meet his demands, Avenatti allegedly threatened to “go take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap” by holding a press conference right before Nike’s quarterly earnings call, accusing the company of bribing the families of high school basketball players.
Avenatti still faces more federal criminal cases. Avenatti will face trial in California next month for allegedly embezzling settlement money from several clients, and prosecutors charged Avenatti in 2019 with stealing part of Daniels’ book advance.