Michael Avenatti — the attorney best known for representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who was paid to keep quiet about her alleged affair with former President Trump — was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison on Thursday for extorting more than $20 million from Nike in exchange for not publicly smearing the company.
“Mr. Avenatti’s conduct was outrageous,” said Judge Paul Gardephe said in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, according to CNBC. “He hijacked his client’s claims, and he used him to further his own agenda, which was to extort Nike millions of dollars for himself.”
Gardephe added that Avenatti “outright betrayed his client” and became “drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived the power of his platform to be.”
Avenatti was also sentenced to three years of supervised release. Gardephe stated that Avenatti deserved a lighter sentence than the eight years recommended by prosecutors after the disgraced lawyer expressed “severe remorse today” and noted the conditions he had endured during the several months he spent in a Manhattan federal prison following his arrest in 2019.
Additionally, Gardephe pointed to the lack of criminal charges against attorney Mark Geragos, who prosecutors allege worked with Avenatti in trying to extort Nike.
Avenatti reportedly cried while delivering a statement prior to his sentencing.
“I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships and my life. And there is no doubt I need to pay,” Avenatti told Gardephe, according to CNBC.
In February 2020, Avenatti was convicted on all three counts of extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort and wire fraud after a jury trial. In 2019, Avenatti threatened to hold a press conference just before Nike’s quarterly earnings call and the NCAA tournament to uncover alleged misdeeds by the company’s employees unless the athletics giant paid him and a co-conspirator in the range of $15 to $25 million to conduct their internal investigation. He said he would also accept a $22.5 million confidential settlement.
The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office asked Gardephe to impose a “very substantial sentence” on Avenatti in the Nike case. Prosecutors alleged Avenatti “betrayed his client’s trust 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.”
Avenatti’s lawyers requested that he be locked up for just six months, arguing that his convicted offenses weren’t violent and didn’t lead to financial loss. Avenatti launched an unsuccessful bid to overturn the verdict.
In a presentencing filing, Avenatti’s lawyers noted that his “epic fall and public shaming has played out in front of the entire world,” referring to his ongoing legal battles.
Avenatti faces two more pending federal criminal trials, with tax and bank charges in California set to go to trial in federal court next week. Avenatti is also set to face trial in New York next year on federal charges for allegedly defrauding Daniels.
Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to each of those charges.
Avenatti rose to prominence when he represented Daniels in 2018, regularly appearing on TV shows to blast then-President Trump. Avenatti floated the possibility of running against Trump in the 2020 presidential election, claiming that he would “have no problem raising money.” At the time, Daniels alleged that she was paid $130,000 by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen in 2016 to keep silent about her affair with Trump. Cohen was eventually sentenced in 2018 to three years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations related to the Daniels hush payment.
Avenatti’s political aspirations, of course, hit a wall when prosecutors in California and New York slapped Avenatti with fraud charges in March 2019.