Michael Avenatti weeps as he’s sentenced to 30 months for Nike extortion attempt

Disgraced lawyer was sentenced to 30 months over the $25 million blackmail scheme

Nathan Place
New York
Thursday 08 July 2021 22:09
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Michael Avenatti makes TV appearance at the height of his fame

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Former Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti wept in court as he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison over his attempt to extort Nike.

Avenatti was convicted in 2020 of extortion and wire fraud over the scheme, in which he threatened to publicize what he claimed was evidence of bribery within Nike’s basketball program – unless the sneaker company paid him up to $25 million.

On Thursday, Avenatti tearfully expressed his remorse.

“I lost my way,” he told US District Judge Paul Gardephe. “I betrayed my own values, friends, family and myself.”

The sentence marked a stunning downfall for Avenatti, who just a few years ago was a fixture of US cable news. Avenatti represented Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress who claimed she had slept with Donald Trump before he ran for president, but was paid to keep quiet about it. When Mr Trump denied her allegations, she sued him for defamation. The case, which Avenatti aggressively championed on TV news channels, made him into a hero of the anti-Trump resistance.

On Thursday, Judge Gardephe said this fame was part of the problem.

“Avenatti had become drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived the power of his platform to be,” the judge said. “He had become someone who operated as if the laws and the rules that applied to everyone else didn’t apply to him.”

In February 2020, Avenatti was convicted of threatening Nike with information he’d received from a client, who claimed the company had made improper payments to families of college basketball recruits. Avenatti said he’d go public with the allegations unless Nike paid him to conduct an internal investigation for an enormous sum – between $15 million and $25 million – and pay an additional $1.5 million to the client.

Nike’s lawyers reported the shakedown to prosecutors, and their next conversations with Avenatti were secretly recorded by the FBI.

“I’m not f***ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti told Nike’s lawyers in 2019, the recordings showed.

At Thursday’s sentencing, Judge Gardephe read many of those conversations aloud.

Avenatti will spend 30 months in prison and three years under supervised release, the judge ruled.

Even after the sentencing, Avenatti’s legal troubles are far from over. In California, he faces two separate trials over charges that he defrauded his clients out of millions of dollars. And in New York, he’ll stand trial next year over charges that he cheated his most famous client, Ms Daniels, out of $300,000 in profits from her book.

Avenatti has denied these charges.

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