Trump-baiting lawyer for Stormy Daniels jailed for trying to extort Nike

New York: Michael Avenatti, the brash California lawyer who once represented Stormy Daniels in suits against President Donald Trump, has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for trying to extort up to $US25 million ($33 million) from Nike by threatening the company with bad publicity.

US District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan said Avenatti, 50, “had become drunk on the power of his platform” in betraying his client, youth basketball coach Gary Franklin, 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.”

“I and I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships, my life,” Michael Avenatti told the judge. Credit:AP

Before being sentenced, Avenatti lost his composure as he admitted to having “lost his way,” and apologised to Franklin and others.

“TV and Twitter, your honour, 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 honour, are willing to take your calls from prison.

“I and I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships, my life,” he added.

The sentencing caps a precipitous downfall for a once-obscure lawyer who in 2018 became a cable news fixture, disparaging then-President Trump and even flirting with a White House run himself.

Avenatti was convicted for threatening to expose Nike’s alleged corrupt payments to families of college basketball prospects unless it forked over $25 million for him and another lawyer to conduct an internal probe.

Avenatti was also convicted of defrauding Franklin by not telling him he wouldn’t settle unless there were a probe.

Recordings showed Avenatti telling Nike lawyers he would “blow the lid” on the sportswear company and wipe $US10 billion off its stock market value unless it bowed to his demands.

But behind the scenes, Avenatti was nearly $US11 million in debt. Evidence showed that Avenatti kept his client in the dark about the scorched-earth negotiations with Nike. One attorney for the shoe company described the talks as “a stick-up.”

Michael Avenatti with his client Stormy Daniels in 2018. Credit:AP

Avenatti 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 out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He represented Daniels in 2018 in lawsuits against Trump, appearing often on cable news programs to disparage the Republican president. Daniels said a tryst with Trump a decade earlier resulted in her being paid $US130,000 ($175,000) by Trump’s personal lawyer in 2016 to stay silent. Trump denied the affair.

The ambitious lawyer’s own political aspirations evaporated when prosecutors in California and New York charged him with fraud in March 2019. California prosecutors said he was enjoying a $US200,000-a-month ($270,000) lifestyle while cheating clients out of millions of dollars and failing to pay hundreds of thousands to the Internal Revenue Service.

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.

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”.

In their pre-sentence submission, Avenatti’s lawyers said their client had suffered enough, citing enormous public shame and a difficult stint in jail last year that ended after lawyers said he was particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“Avenatti’s epic fall and public shaming has played out in front of the entire world. The court may take judicial notice of this fact, as Avenatti’s cataclysmic fall has been well-documented,” the lawyers wrote.

AP, Reuters, New York Daily News

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