Michael Avenatti, the attorney who formerly represented on-screen prostitute Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, was sentenced Thursday for attempting to extort $20 million from Nike. He will serve two-and-half years in prison.
Avenatti was convicted in February 2020 upon a jury trial finding him guilty on counts of extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, and wire fraud.
“While the defendant may have tried to hide behind legal terms and a suit and tie, the jury clearly saw the defendant’s scheme for what it was — an old fashioned shakedown,” Geoffrey Berman, the prior U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, stated upon his guilty verdict.
Avenatti vowed in March 2019 to expose Nike’s supposed wrongdoing funneling payments to basketball players, to which the company recorded a vulgar tirade of his and forwarded it to federal investigators. Avenatti threatened Nike that he would perform his own independent investigation. Avenatti’s initial indictment included a total of 36 charges including fraud, perjury, embezzlement, tax evasion, and additional financial crimes.
“I’m not fuc-ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti was caught saying to Nike by the FBI. “You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem. And it’s worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing. A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me. I’m just being really frank with you … And I’ll proceed with my press conference tomorrow, and I’ll hang up with you now, and I’ll call the New York Times, who are awaiting my call … I’ll go take $10 billion off your client’s market cap.”
After representing Daniels with the aim of voiding a non-disclosure agreement signed in 2016 in regard to an alleged affair with Trump, Daniels said Avenatti filed the suit against her requests. Daniels formally withdrew from her agreement with Avenatti in March 2019, noting upon learning of the federal charges against him, “Knowing what I know now about Michael, I’m saddened but not shocked regarding his arrest.”
Avenatti became a cable news star during his time as Daniels’ attorney, appearing on broadcast and cable news networks 214 times in 2018, spanning from March to November. When a judge instructed him that he would have to cease his television “publicity tour” in order to join the federal investigation of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen at his request, he notably withdrew his motion and appeared on MSNBC the following day.
In September 2018, Avenatti put forth an allegation of gang rape on behalf of a woman against then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. However, the witness, Julie Swetnick, said shortly after the attorney “twisted her words” and she only “skimmed” the accusation.
Avenatti cried during his court sentencing, noting, “I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships and my life. And there is no doubt I need to pay.”