Law & the Courts

Michael Avenatti Sentenced to 2.5 Years in Prison for Nike Extortion Scheme

Attorney Michael Avenatti exits, following his sentencing for an extortion scheme against Nike Inc., at the U.S. Courthouse in New York City, N.Y., July 8, 2021. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who rose to fame for his representation of porn star Stormy Daniels in her suit against former President Trump, was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Thursday for a scheme to extort Nike out of more than $20 million.

The sentencing comes after the lawyer was found guilty in February 2020 of attempted extortion, honest-services fraud and the related use of interstate communications after he tried to “extract more than $20 million in payments” from Nike by threatening the company with bad publicity lest it complied with his demands.

Avenatti attempted to extort the company using a claim by his former client Gary Franklin, an amateur basketball coach who retained the lawyer to pursue reforms by Nike. Franklin had claimed Nike was corruptly paying amateur players and their families.

Avenatti told Nike in 2019 that in order to avoid a press conference in which he would share Franklin’s claims, the company would have to settle with Franklin and sign a consulting agreement with him and attorney Mark Geragos.

Avenatti reportedly warned Nike’s lawyer that the claims could “take ten billion dollars off your client’s” stock market capitalization.

“I’m not f***ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti told the company’s lawyers just before his arrest.

Manhattan federal court Judge Paul Gardephe said Avenatti’s “conduct was outrageous.”

“He hijacked his client’s claims, and he used them to further his own agenda, which was to extort Nike millions of dollars for himself,” the judge said. “He outright betrayed his client.”

Avenatti’s sentence is much lower than the low end of the sentencing range suggested by federal guidelines — nine years — and well below the “substantial” prison term that federal prosecutors had requested.

Avenatti’s lawyers had asked for a sentence of only six months.

“Michael Avenatti used illegal and extortionate threats and betrayed one of his clients for the purpose of seeking to obtain millions of dollars for himself,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a press release.

“Not only did Avenatti attempt to weaponize his law license and celebrity to seek to extort payments for himself, he also defrauded his own client. Avenatti will now serve substantial time in prison for his criminal conduct,” she added.

Before he was sentenced, Avenatti acknowledged that “I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships and my life. And there is no doubt I need to pay.”

“I am truly sorry for all of the pain I caused to Mr. Franklin and others,” he said before the judge.

Meanwhile, Avenatti also faces a “litany of tax and bank charges” in California. A trial for those charges is set to begin next week.

A trial in New York is also scheduled to begin next year for “federal charges that he embezzled money from Ms. Daniels,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Gardephe ordered Avenatti, who remains free on bond, to surrender on September 15 to begin his sentence. The judge recommended Avenatti serve his time at the federal prison camp in Sheridan, Oregon.

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