Michael Avenatti receives 2.5 years in prison for Nike extortion scheme

Lawyer became cable TV fixture when he represented Stormy Daniels, a woman who reportedly had an affair with former president Donald Trump

Michael Avenatti departs a scheduled sentencing at Manhattan federal court, on July 8, 2021, in New York.  AP
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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 2.5 years in prison on Thursday for trying to extort Nike.

US 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,” Mr 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 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 up to $25 million for him and another lawyer to conduct an internal probe.

Recordings showed Avenatti telling Nike lawyers he would “blow the lid” on the sportswear 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 own debts. Nike has denied any wrongdoing.

Avenatti was also convicted of defrauding the coach, Gary Franklin, by not telling him he would not settle unless there were a probe.

Mr Franklin had been upset Nike had stopped sponsoring his programme and said he wanted simply to restore their relationship. He said Avenatti had “destroyed my reputation” in his community.

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

Avenatti had hoped to receive no more than six months in prison and his lawyers have said he will appeal his conviction.

Prosecutors had sought a “very substantial” prison term after probation officers recommended eight years.

Updated: July 08, 2021, 9:43 PM