Michael Avenatti sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for Nike extortion scheme: 'Drunk on power,' says judge

·2 min read

Former Stormy Daniels lawyer and Donald Trump antagonist Michael Avenatti was sentenced to 2½ years in prison on Thursday for a failed scheme to extort Nike of more than $20 million. 

U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe handed down the sentence in a Manhattan court while chiding Avenatti as "drunk on power," according to Reuters. According to reports, Avenatti cried as Gardephe read his sentence.

“I betrayed my own values, my friends, my family and myself,” Avenatti said, while in tears. “I betrayed my profession. I became driven by things that don’t matter in life.”

Avenatti threatened to dish alleged dirt on Nike in college pay-for-play scandal

Avenatti was convicted of attempted extortion for threatening to expose alleged payments by Nike to college basketball prospects and their families at the height of the game's pay-for-play scandal. He demanded payment of up to $25 million to remain silent and conduct an investigation on Nike's behalf. 

Prosecutors argued that Avenatti told Nike lawyers that his information would wipe $10 billion of market off the publicly traded company. Nike denied any wrongdoing.

Avenatti contended that he was simply representing a whistleblowing coach from the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League who claimed to have damaging information on Nike. The Southern District of New York did not agree. 

"Mr. Avenatti's conduct was outrageous," Gardephe said while handing down the sentence. "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."

Lawyer Michael Avenatti departs federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Michael Avenatti was reportedly in tears as the judge handed down his sentence on Thursday. (Reuters/file/Carlo Allegri)

How did Avenatti get here?

Avenatti rose to fame in 2018 after representing porn star Stormy Daniels in civil action against former President Trump. Daniels sued Trump for defamation related to $130,000 in hush money she says Trump paid her in order to remain silent about their affair while Trump was married to Melania Trump. Trump denies Daniels' claim. A federal judge dismissed that suit in 2018, and the Supreme Court rejected an appeal in February. 

Avenatti rode his newfound fame to regular appearances on cable news networks and mulled a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination to run against Trump in 2020. He now faces three other criminal fraud trials, including one involving Daniels. He's charged with defrauding Daniels of nearly $300,000 from a book deal.

Avenatti's sentence is more than the six months his defense team sought, but less than the eight years probation officers recommended. 

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