A federal judge on Thursday sentenced disgraced attorney Michael Avenatti to 2 1/2 years behind bars for his efforts to extort tens of millions of dollars from Nike.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe in New York marked another crushing blow for the 50-year-old Avenatti who was once one of the most familiar faces on cable TV news, as representative of former porn star Stormy Daniels.
Avenatti was convicted in February last year of extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, and wire fraud in connection to threats he made against sports equipment and apparel giant Nike.
When federal agents arrested Avenatti in March 2019, the attorney had been representing a Los Angeles youth basketball coach who allegedly had information that Nike employees made illicit payments to top high school athletes.
Avenatti had threatened to ruin Nike’s reputation and crater its stock price unless it agreed to pay him and his client millions of dollars, prosecutors said.
He was caught on a recorded call, hurling expletives as he pressured Nike reps to pay him.
“I’m not f—ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti told Nike reps, according to court papers. “You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem. And it’s worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing. A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me.”
Prosecutors say he demanded that Nike pay his client $1.5 million and compensate him and his co-conspirator $15 million to $25 million to conduct an “internal investigation” for the company.
Avenatti’s defense lawyers had asked for a six-month prison term, noting his crimes were not violent and no one was defrauded of any money.
“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,” his defense lawyers wrote.
But prosecutors said Avenatti deserved a “very substantial” prison sentence of eight years for callously using his high profile persona to “enrich himself.”
“The defendant, a prominent attorney and media personality with a large public following, betrayed his client and 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. This was an egregious abuse of trust, and it warrants real and serious punishment,” prosecutors wrote.
Avenatti came to fame as lawyer for the adult film actress Daniels, who said she had an extramarital affair with Donald Trump in 2006 before the future president allegedly paid her hush money.
His legal problems still aren’t done, as he’s set to go on trial next year in federal court for allegedly defrauding Daniels out of hundreds of thousands of dollars she was owed for a book deal.
Avenatti also faces other federal fraud charges in Los Angeles. The attorney has pleaded not guilty to all charges.