Trump enemy Michael Avenatti convicted in Nike extortion case
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 hearing on his conviction in an extortion program against Nike.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Michael Avenatti, the brazen lawyer 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 less than the nine years, which was the lowest of the sentences proposed by federal guidelines, and nowhere near a “substantial” jail sentence being sought by federal attorneys for the California attorney.
“I alone have ruined my career, my relationships and my life. And there is no doubt that I will have to pay,” said Avenatti, 50, Manhattan Federal Court Justice Paul Gardephe tearfully before he was convicted.
“I am really sorry for all the pain I have inflicted on Mr. Franklin and others,” said Avenatti, referring to his former client, Gary Franklin, an amateur basketball coach.
Avenatti’s conviction came more than three years after he was widely publicized and infamed for silencing her bombastic portrayal of pornstar Stormy Daniels, who received a $ 130,000 hush payment from Trump’s then personal lawyer Michael Cohen prior to the 2016 presidential election bringing up allegations that she had sex with Trump years before he ran for the White House.
Daniels is one of several former Avenatti clients he is charged with on 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 kidnapped 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.
Nike’s reaction to the decision was brief. “The verdict and the verdict speak for themselves,” said the company.
Franklin had hired Avenatti to reform Nike, which Franklin had claimed was corrupting amateur players and their families
Avenatti then used this request in early 2019 to not only demand a settlement with Franklin, but also 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 allegations “could reduce your client’s market capitalization by $ 10 billion”.
“I don’t play around with it and I don’t play any more,” 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 11 years and three months – because the judge said for the first time in the case: “Mr. Avenatti has expressed what I believe to be heavy regrets today. “
The judge also cited the brutal conditions under which Avenatti 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, pointed out that federal prosecutors did not prosecute Geragos even though they claimed he was actively involved in the shakedown with Avenatti.
The judge ordered that Avenatti, who remains in custody, must 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.
During his statement to Gardephe, Avenatti noted that as a child, while other children dreamed of becoming professional athletes, said, “I dreamed of becoming a lawyer. Of becoming a trial 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, who admitted he would never work as a lawyer again.
“I’ve learned that all the fame, the money motorism in the world is meaningless,” said Avenatti.
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 most people want their children to be proud of their fathers, but in the case of his own three children, “I want them to be ashamed of him”.
“Because if you’re 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 face another trial in Manhattan federal court next year for alleged fraud against Daniels for $ 300,000 in proceeds 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 fighting the Goliath”.
But she remarked, “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 has been an almost constant presence on cable television news 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 flash 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.
Cohen, who spent more than a year in jail for crimes that included a campaign funding violation related to the payout of Daniels, said in a Twitter post that he heard Avenatti’s conviction over a phone line issued as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has been set up.
“Despite my disdain for Avenatti for all the lies he said about me, I was glad the 108-135 month guideline was drastically reduced by a measured and logical judge,” Cohen tweeted. “Job well done by @Edanyaperry,” he added, using the Twitter handle from Perry, Avenatti’s attorney.
CNBC’s Jessica Golden contributed to this report.