Former celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti was sentenced Thursday to 30 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release for attempting to extort Nike.
Avenatti was convicted of transmitting interstate communications with intent to extort, attempted extortion, and honest services wire fraud in February 2020 after attempting to extort millions of dollars from Nike. Over the course of multiple phone calls in 2019, Avenatti claimed to represent a basketball coach who possessed damaging information about the athletic brand. He demanded $1.5 million for his client, and then $15-25 million for himself to conduct an audit of the company.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman described Avenatti’s behavior as “an old-fashioned shakedown.”
Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe to impose a “very substantial” prison sentence on Avenatti and requested that he pay Nike $1 million to cover legal fees. The U.S. Probation Department recommended Avenatti receive eight years in prison. Sentencing guidelines recommended between 9-11 years in prison.
Avenatti’s attorneys requested that he be sentenced to less than six months in prison.
“Avenatti’s epic fall and public shaming have played out in front of the entire world. The Court may take judicial notice of this fact, as Avenatti’s cataclysmic fall has been well-documented,” they claimed. “He cannot go anywhere in public without inducing and subjecting himself to vitriolic comments and abuse. These circumstances alone would deter anyone in Avenatti’s shoes from engaging in similar conduct.” (RELATED: Michael Avenatti Reacts To Indictment For Extortion: I Was Trying To ‘Make Sure The Right Thing Was Done’)
Avenatti’s lawyers also criticized his pre-trial detention at the Metropolitan Correction Center.
“I’ve never seen such conditions. He would show up for trial preparation freezing cold, blue-lipped,” defense attorney Danya Perry told the court.
Prosecutors responded by slamming Avenatti’s request for leniency, saying that he accused Nike of responsibility for “causing harm to” the basketball coach, Gary Franklin.
“I lost my way,” Avenatti told the court. “I betrayed my values, my friends, my family, and myself. I betrayed my profession. I became driven by the things that don’t matter in life.”
“I’ve learned that all the fame, notoriety, and money in the world is meaningless. TV and Twitter mean nothing.”
Avenatti says he dreamed of “fighting for the little guy against the Goliath.”
“For years, I did just that, but then I lost my way. I betrayed my values, my friends, my family and then, myself,” he says.
“I became driven by the things that don’t matter in life.”
— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) July 8, 2021
Upon imposing the sentence, Gardephe described Avenatti’s conduct as “outrageous.”
“Mr. Avenatti had become drunk on the power of his platform. He had become someone who operated as if the laws and rules that applied to everyone else did not apply to him.”
Avenatti rose to prominence as the attorney for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged that she had an affair with former President Donald Trump. Daniels later sued Trump for defamation and was ordered by a court to pay him nearly $300,000 in legal fees. Prosecutors later charged Avenatti with stealing $300,000 from Daniels.
He went on to become a cable news darling, appearing on CNN and MSNBC well over 200 times in 2018 and 2019. CNN host Brian Stelter suggested that Avenatti was a “contender” for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Avenatti is facing a maximum of 333 years in prison on a different indictment. He is accused of stealing millions of dollars in government settlement money from a client and the IRS, which he allegedly used to purchase a private jet. That trial will begin next week.