Disgraced Trump enemy Michael Avenatti cries as he is sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for Nike extortion
Attorney Michael Avenatti arrives at the U.S. courthouse in the Manhattan neighborhood of New York City (SDNY) in New York, United States, on July 8, 2021 for his conviction hearing on an extortion program against Nike.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Michael Avenatti, the brazen attorney who was a major enemy of then-President Donald Trump, was sentenced to 30 months in prison Thursday for a brazen, botched plan to extort up to $ 25 million from sportswear giant Nike.
That sentence was much shorter than the nine years, which was the lowest sentence proposed by federal guidelines, and nowhere near "a substantial" jail sentence that federal prosecutors have sought.
"I alone have ruined my career, my relationships and my life. And there is no doubt that I have to pay," Avenatti, 50, tearfully told Manhattan Federal Court Justice Paul Gardephe before he was convicted.
"I am really sorry for all the pain I have caused Mr. Franklin and others to do," said Avenatti, referring to his former client, Gary Franklin, an amateur basketball coach.
Avenatti's conviction came more than three years after he became widely publicized and famous for silencing her bombastic portrayal of pornstar Stormy Daniels, who received a $ 130,000 hush payment from Trump's then personal attorney Michael Cohen prior to the 2016 presidential election bringing up claims that she had sex with Trump years before he ran for the White House.
Daniels is one of several ex-Avenatti customers on whom he faces two other separate federal fraud charges, one of which is scheduled to begin in California next week.
Gardephe said Mr Avenatti's behavior in the Nike program was outrageous.
"He hijacked his client's claims and used them to advance his own agenda of extorting millions of dollars from Nike for himself," said the judge, who also sentenced Avenatti to three years of supervised release in the event that Avenatti was killed Sentenced in court last year.
"He really betrayed his client," said Gardephe.
Franklin had hired Avenatti to reform Nike, which Franklin had claimed was corrupting amateur players and their families
Avenatti then used that claim in early 2019 to seek not only a settlement with Franklin, but a more lucrative advisory agreement from Nike for him and senior attorney Mark Geragos to avoid a press conference at which he would make Franklin's allegations.
Avenatti warned Nike's attorney that the claims "could take $ 10 billion off your client's market capitalization."
"I don't play around with it and I don't play any more games," Avenatti told Nike lawyers shortly before his arrest.
Attorney Michael Avenatti is leaving the court after being convicted of an extortion program against Nike Inc. on July 8, 2021 at the U.S. Courthouse in New York City.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Gardephe noticed this language during Thursday's hearing in which he said, "Mr. Avenatti was drunk from the power of his platform or how he perceived the power of his platform."
But Gardephe added that Avenatti deserved a lighter sentence than the range recommended by federal guidelines – from nine years to eleven years and three months – because, the judge said, "Mr. Avenatti today expressed grave remorse in my opinion Has."
The judge also cited the brutal conditions under which he was held in a federal prison in Manhattan for several months after his arrest in 2019.
And Gardephe, in substantiating the lower-than-recommended verdict, stated sharply that federal prosecutors had not criminally charged Geragos, who prosecutors said he was involved in the shakedown with Avenatti.
The judge ordered Avenatti, who remains in custody, to surrender on September 15 to begin his sentence, which Gardephe recommended to serve at the Sheridan, Oregon Federal Prison Camp. Avenatti's lawyers had asked for a prison sentence of just six months.
While testifying to Gardephe, Avenatti noted that as a child, while other children dreamed of becoming professional athletes, said, “I dreamed of becoming a lawyer.
"About doing good and seeking and achieving justice."
"I did just that for years, but then I got lost. I gave away my own values, my friends, my family and myself," he said.
"I gave away my job. I was driven by the things that don't matter in life. For the past two years, Your Honor, I've been thinking why this had to happen," said Avenatti.
"I've learned that all the fame, the money motorism in the world is meaningless."
Avenatti collapsed and took a few moments to calm himself down as he discussed the effects of his behavior on his three children.
He said that while most people want their children to be proud of their fathers, "in the case of his own three children, I want them to be ashamed of him".
"Because if you are ashamed, it means your moral compass is exactly what it should be," he said.
At his trial next week, Avenatti is charged with criminal offenses, which include defrauding customers for millions of dollars. One of these clients was a mentally ill paraplegic.
Avenatti will again face charges in Manhattan federal court next year for alleged fraud against Daniels, from proceeds of $ 300,000 for a book she wrote.
As in the Nike case, Avenatti pleaded not guilty in the other two cases.
During Thursday's conviction, U.S. Assistant Attorney Matthew Podolsky told Gardephe that Avenatti had a "profound lack of remorse" for his behavior.
"It's about taking advantage of people and abusing power and trust," said Podolsky.
"He saw Mr. Franklin as a way to get rich, to make Mr. Avenatti rich."
But Avenatti's attorney, Perry, pleaded forbearance, saying, "He had an epic fall, he was publicly shamed."
Perry said that while Avenatti pursued and then achieved a legal career, "really wanted to be the David who fights Goliath".
But, she noted, "He's certainly lost and he knows it."
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"I can tell you … he's a completely humble man who got beaten up by himself," said Perry.
Perry also advocated a shorter term because Avenatti and Geragos were treated differently.
"It is impossible to distinguish between the conduct of Mr. Avenatti … and that of Mark Geragos, whom they did not charge at all," said lawyer Danya Perry.
"The Nike lawyers, on the other hand, believed Mr Geragos was a full participant and felt as threatened and blackmailed by him as they were by Mr Avenatti."
The contrast between the tearful Avenatti on Thursday and the sharp-tongued, Twitter-obsessed lawyer he was in 2018 was dramatic.
Avenatti has been beating Trump and Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen for months this year after it was revealed that Cohen paid Daniels the hush money so as not to affect Trump's chances of winning the White House. Trump denies having sex with Daniels.
After the hush money program was exposed, Avenatti was featured almost constantly on cable television news broadcasts attacking Trump and Cohen.
Avenatti's notoriety and popularity with some of Trump's opponents grew so high that at one point he flirted with running for the Democratic presidential run in 2020.
But the attorney's commercial lightning came as he staggered under millions in debt, a burden prosecutors alleged had committed the series of serious crimes he was charged with in early 2019.