Disgraced celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti was on Thursday sentenced to four years behind bars following his conviction for defrauding a former client, adult entertainer Stormy Daniels, during her suits against former US president Donald Trump.
Jurors in February convicted Avenatti, 51, of wire fraud and embezzling up to $300,000 of an $800,000 payout to Daniels for her autobiography, spending some of the money on his company’s payroll and personal expenses.
US District Judge Jesse Furman imposed the sentence in federal court in Manhattan as Avenatti, 51, wearing tan prison garb, blue trainers and a white face mask, looked on.
The California lawyer is already serving a 2.5-year sentence stemming from his 2020 conviction for trying to extort $25 million from sportswear giant Nike. Part of the new sentence will run concurrently, meaning Avenatti faces a combined five years in prison.
"I have destroyed my career, my relationships and my reputation," Avenatti told the judge before sentencing.
Fighting back tears, he admitted he “failed in a cataclysmic way” and will “forever be branded a disgraced lawyer.”
Prosecutors showed that Avenatti spent the stolen money on personal expenses, including payments on his Ferrari, while convincing Daniels in text messages that the publisher was to blame for her missing payments.
Assistant US Attorney Matthew Podolsky called this an “incredible personal betrayal” of Daniels’s trust. The performer was proud of her book deal and needed the cash advances to make payments on her home, the prosecution said.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Gregory Clifford, was the star witness in the trial, testifying that Avenatti stole her money and lied to her about it for months.
Avenatti, representing himself at trial, added to the courtroom drama by grilling Daniels about her belief in the paranormal and her “visions” of ghosts, seeking to discredit her.
Avenatti rose to cable news stardom in 2018 by defending Daniels in her high-profile lawsuits against Mr Trump over claims in her autobiography, Full Disclosure, which was published that autumn.
Daniels is known for receiving $130,000 from Mr Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, in exchange for staying quiet before the 2016 election about an affair she says she had with Mr Trump, then a celebrity property tycoon.
Mr Trump denies the encounters took place. Shortly after the payment, he won the presidency.
Avenatti successfully freed Daniels from her non-disclosure deal with Mr Trump.