Michael Avenatti sentenced to 2.5 years in prison in Nike extortion case

NEW YORK -- Michael Avenatti, the California lawyer who once represented Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, was sentenced Thursday to 2½ years in prison for trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening the company with bad publicity.

Avenatti, 50, was convicted last year of charges including attempted extortion and honest services fraud in connection with his representation of a Los Angeles youth basketball league organizer who was upset that Nike had ended its league sponsorship.

U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe called Avenatti's conduct "outrageous,'' saying 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.''

Avenatti, the judge added, "had become drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived the power of his platform to be. He had become someone who operated as if the laws and the rules that applied to everyone else didn't apply to him.''

Before the judge spoke, Avenatti delivered emotional remarks, sometimes through tears.

"Your honor, I've learned that all the fame, notoriety and money in the world is meaningless," he said. "TV and Twitter, your honor, mean nothing."

He ended his statement by saying what he expects of his three children, including two teenage daughters who wrote letters to the judge.

"Every father wants their children to be proud of them," Avenatti said. "I want mine to be ashamed. Because if they are ashamed, it means their moral compass is exactly where it should be.''

As he left the courthouse in the rain with his attorney, he stopped briefly before a set of microphones while his lawyer, Danya Perry, told reporters, "A new Michael Avenatti is deeply humbled as a result of this experience.''

The judge agreed, noting that Avenatti had not shown contrition or accepted responsibility for his crimes until Thursday, when he expressed "what I believe to be sincere remorse.''

Gardephe said some leniency was deserved because prosecutors declined to charge Mark Geragos, a prominent attorney who played a critical role in the scheme. Geragos first reached out to a Nike contact and remained silent at meetings and on phone calls as he and Avenatti shared a "good cop, bad cop routine.''

The Associated Press sent an email seeking comment to Geragos.

The judge also said conditions were "terrible'' at the Manhattan federal lockup where Avenatti spent 100 days behind bars last year, mostly in solitary confinement. He said it was hard to believe such conditions would occur in the U.S.

Criminal fraud charges on two coasts disrupted Avenatti's rapid ascent to fame. He also faces the start of a fraud trial next week in the Los Angeles area, a second California criminal trial later this year and a separate trial next year in Manhattan, where he is charged with cheating Daniels, an adult film actor, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Every father wants their children to be proud of them. I want mine to be ashamed. Because if they are ashamed, it means their moral compass is exactly where it should be." Michael Avenatti, to U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe, before his sentencing

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky told Gardephe that Avenatti deserved "substantial imprisonment'' because he used his client "as a way to get himself rich.'' Defense lawyers sought a six-month prison term followed by a year of home detention.

Perry told the judge that recordings of Avenatti's profanity-laced threats to Nike lawyers made her "skin crawl,'' but she said she also felt mean-spirited backlash from people who expressed hated toward her client.

In a victim impact statement, Nike's lawyers said Avenatti did considerable harm to the company by falsely trying to link it to a scandal in which bribes were paid to the families of NBA-bound college basketball players to steer them to powerhouse programs. An employee of Adidas, a Nike competitor, was convicted in that prosecution.

The lawyers said Avenatti threatened to do billions of dollars of damage to Nike and then falsely tweeted that criminal conduct at Nike reached the "highest levels.''

Avenatti's former client, Gary Franklin Jr., said in a statement submitted by prosecutors that Avenatti's action had "devastated me financially, professionally, and emotionally.''

Franklin and representatives of Nike attended the sentencing. An attorney for Franklin released a statement saying that his client was grateful to the court for "honoring the very painful experience he went through at the hands of Michael Avenatti.''