Michael Avenatti was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on July 8 after he was found guilty of an extortion scheme against Nike, finalizing the downfall of Stormy Daniel’s former attorney and mainstream media commentator.
Avenatti, who rose to fame for his criticism of then-President Donald Trump, received a much lower sentence than the sentencing range suggested by federal guidelines. He also received a sentence of three years of supervised release.
“Mr. Avenatti’s conduct was outrageous,” Judge Paul Gardephe said in U.S. District Court in Manhattan during a hearing.
“He hijacked his client’s claims, and he used him to further his own agenda, which was to extort Nike [for] millions of dollars for himself.”
Gardephe noted Avenatti’s notoriety in recent years as a lawyer for Trump accuser Stormy Daniels, saying that he tried to exploit his power and fame during the extortion attempt.
“Mr. Avenatti had become drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived the power of his platform to be.”
However, Gardephe said Avenatti deserved a more lenient sentence because he “has expressed what I believe to be severe remorse today.”
For Avenatti, the sentencing marks the conclusion of a tumultuous period that saw him publicly musing a potential presidential bid during media interviews with CNN and MSNBC. Avenatti, who had often attacked Trump on Twitter and in the media, quickly rose to fame and became a mainstay on the two networks during the early part of the Trump administration.
As a frequent guest on mainstream news programs to discuss his lawsuit, he logged more than 100 CNN and MSNBC appearances between March and May 2018, according to an analysis. At the same time, he gained a massive following on Twitter.
Avenatti was arrested in early 2019 in New York for trying to extort Nike out of $25 million, according to prosecutors at the time. They alleged that he threatened to publicly accuse the clothing giant of illicitly paying amateur basketball players unless the firm paid him.
According to court documents, Avenatti threatened a Nike lawyer and claimed he would “take 10 billion dollars off your client’s” stock market capitalization.
“I’m not [expletive] around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” he told the Nike attorney, the court documents allege.
Avenatti was arrested shortly thereafter. About a year later, in April 2020, he was found guilty on all three counts.
Also in 2019, a U.S. attorney in California filed a complaint accusing Avenatti of wire fraud and bank fraud, alleging that he had embezzled money from a client and had defrauded a Mississippi bank by submitting false tax returns. For those counts, Avenatti was charged by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana, California, for allegedly embezzling funds from NBA player Hassan Whiteside. He’s pleaded not guilty to the charges.
While in court on July 8, Avenatti read a statement.
“I am truly sorry for all of the pain I caused to Mr. Franklin and others,” Avenatti said, referring to client Gary Franklin, who had relayed information to him about Nike’s alleged illicit payment scheme.
“I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships, and my life. And there is no doubt I need to pay.”