NEW YORK — A New York judge sentenced California lawyer Michael Avenatti to 2½ years in prison Thursday for trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to use his popularity to damage the company’s reputation.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe announced the sentence in Manhattan, where a jury in early 2020 convicted Avenatti of charges including attempted extortion and honest services fraud for his dealings with the company.
Avenatti, 50, gained fame representing adult film actor Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump.
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 out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Avenatti was convicted 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.
Prosecutors had requested a “very substantial” sentence, citing the U.S. Probation Department’s recommendation of an eight-year prison term. Avenatti’s lawyers said six months in prison and a year of home detention was enough punishment.
On Tuesday, Gardephe rejected a request by Avenatti’s lawyers to toss out his conviction in the Nike case. The judge wrote that evidence showed that Avenatti “devised an approach to Nike that was designed to enrich himself” rather than address his client’s objectives.
In written sentencing arguments, prosecutors said Avenatti tried to enrich himself by “weaponizing his public profile” to try to force Nike to submit to his demands.
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 was expected in court Thursday.
In their presentence 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.
Although prosecutors asked Gardephe to impose a $1 million restitution order to help cover Nike’s legal expenses, Avenatti’s attorneys cited the lack of financial losses as a reason for leniency.
“There was no financial loss to any victims so there is no restitution in this case,” they wrote. “The fact that a white collar federal criminal case was brought despite this fact is itself an important mitigating factor.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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