The case of Michael Avenatti and the Nike sneakers is one of the most interesting stories to emerge in the running world of late 2017. The lawyer is known for representing porn star Stephanie Clifford, who’s alleged to have had an affair with the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump. After she accused the President of defrauding her client, the FBI raided Avenatti’s offices in Los Angeles, the lawyer was charged with extortion and his law firm, Eagan Avenatti, was eventually dissolved.
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NEW YORK – Michael Avenatti, the California lawyer who once represented Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, was sentenced Thursday to two and a half years in prison for trying to extort as much as $25 million from Nike through threats of bad publicity.
Avenatti, 50, was convicted last year of attempted racketeering and fraud for representing the organizer of a youth basketball league in Los Angeles, who was displeased that Nike had discontinued sponsorship of the league.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gardef called Avenatti’s behavior outrageous and said he had hijacked his client’s lawsuit and used it to further his own agenda of extorting millions of dollars from Nike for himself.
Avenatti, the judge added, enjoyed the power of his platform, or what he saw as the power of his platform. He has become a person who claims that the laws and rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to him.
Before the judge spoke, Avenatti made emotional speeches, sometimes in tears.
Your Honor, I realized that all the fame, glory and money in the world are meaningless, he said. Television and Twitter, Your Honor, mean nothing.
At the end of his speech, he said what he expects of his three children, including the two teenage girls who wrote letters to the judge.
Every father wants his children to be proud of him, Mr. Avenatti said. I want my people to be ashamed. Because if they are embarrassed, then their moral compass is exactly where it needs to be.
As he left the courthouse in the rain with his lawyer, he stopped briefly at a microphone, and his lawyer, Danya Perry, told reporters: The new Michael Avenatti is deeply humbled by the experience.
The judge agreed, noting that Mr. Avenatti was unrepentant and did not acknowledge responsibility for his crimes until Thursday, when he expressed what I consider to be genuine remorse.
Gardef said some leniency was deserved because prosecutors refused to charge Mark Geragos, a prominent lawyer who played a crucial role in the system. Geragos initially turned to the Nike contact and remained silent in meetings and phone calls, while he and Avenatti shared the good cop/bad cop.
The Associated Press emailed Geragos for comment.
The judge also said that conditions at the Manhattan federal prison, where Avenatti spent 100 days behind bars last year, mostly in solitary confinement, were wretched. He said it was hard to believe that such conditions could exist in the United States.
Criminal charges for fraud on two coasts interrupted Avenatti’s meteoric rise. He also faces a fraud trial next week in Los Angeles, a second criminal trial in California later this year and another trial next year in Manhattan, where he is accused of defrauding Daniels, an actress in a porn film, of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Every father wants his children to be proud of him. I want my people to be ashamed. Because if they are embarrassed, then their moral compass is exactly where it needs to be.
Michael Avenatti before his sentencing by U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardeff.
Assistant prosecutor Matthew Podolski told Gardef that Avenatti deserved a significant prison sentence for using his client to enrich himself. Defense attorneys have asked for a six-month prison sentence, followed by a year of house arrest.
Perry told the judge that images of Avenatti threatening Nike lawyers with profanity gave her goosebumps, but she also said she felt angry reactions from people expressing their hatred for her client.
In a victim impact statement, Nike lawyers said Avenatti caused the company significant harm by falsely linking them to a scandal in which the families of college basketball players who made it to the NBA received bribes to send them to top programs. An employee of Adidas, a competitor of Nike, was convicted in this case.
According to lawyers, Avenatti threatened Nike with billions of dollars in damages, after which he falsely tweeted that criminal conduct at Nike had reached the highest level.
A former Avenatti client, Gary Franklin Jr, said in a statement to prosecutors that Avenatti’s actions devastated me financially, professionally and emotionally.
Franklin and representatives of Nike were present at the sentencing hearing. Franklin’s attorney released a statement saying his client is grateful to the court for respecting his very painful experience at the hands of Michael Avenatti.
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