NEW YORK (Reuters) – Michael Avenatti, the brash lawyer who shot to fame representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against Donald Trump before a swirl of criminal charges ended his legal career, was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison on Thursday for trying to extort Nike Inc.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan said Avenatti, 50, “had become drunk on the power of his platform” in betraying his client, a youth basketball coach, for his own gain.
“Mr. Avenatti’s conduct was outrageous,” Gardephe said. “He hijacked his client’s claims, and he used those claims to further his own agenda, which was to extort millions of dollars from Nike for himself.”
The sentencing caps a precipitous downfall for a once-obscure lawyer who in 2018 became a cable news and social media fixture, disparaging then-President Trump and even flirting with his own White House run.
Avenatti still faces three other criminal fraud trials, including for defrauding Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford.
In the Nike case, Avenatti was convicted for threatening to expose the sportswear company’s alleged corrupt payments to families of college basketball prospects, unless it paid up to $25 million for him and another lawyer to conduct a probe.
Nike has denied wrongdoing. “The verdict and sentence speak for themselves,” it said in a statement.
Recordings showed Avenatti telling Nike lawyers he would “blow the lid” on the company and wipe $10 billion off its stock market value unless it bowed to his demands.
Prosecutors said Avenatti was counting on a big payday to cover his debts.
Avenatti was also convicted of defrauding the coach, Gary Franklin, by not telling him he wouldn’t settle unless there were a probe.
Gardephe read extensively from Avenatti’s taped words, including multiple profanities, before imposing the sentence, which includes an additional three years of supervised release following prison.
LOSING HIS WAY
Avenatti’s lawyers have said he will appeal the February 2020 conviction.
Before learning his fate, Avenatti choked up as he admitted to losing his way following years of “fighting for the little guy against the Goliaths.” The divorced father of three apologized to Franklin and others.
“TV and Twitter, your honor, mean nothing,” Avenatti told the judge. “Everyone wants to ride in a limo with you, but very few are willing to sit next to you on the bus. Even fewer, your honor, are willing to take your calls from prison.
“I and I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships, my life,” he added.
Franklin had been upset Nike stopped sponsoring his program, and said he wanted simply to restore their relationship. He said Avenatti had “destroyed my reputation” within his community.
Avenatti had sought no more than six months in prison.
Prosecutors had sought a “very substantial” term, and probation officers recommended eight years.
But the judge said he took into account Avenatti’s “sincere remorse” and his having spent three months early last year in “horrific conditions” at a Manhattan jail, as well as the role of the other lawyer, who was not charged.
Avenatti still faces a July 20 trial in California on charges he stole nearly $10 million from five clients, and a second trial there on bankruptcy, bank and tax fraud charges.
He also faces a January trial in Manhattan for allegedly cheating Daniels out of proceeds from a book contract.
Daniels had sued Trump in connection with a 2016 agreement not to discuss their alleged sexual encounters from a decade earlier, which Trump denies having had.
Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller)