Michael Avenatti sentenced to 4 years for stealing nearly $300,000 from Stormy Daniels
By Kara Scannel
Disgraced attorney Michael Avenatti has been sentenced to four years in prison for stealing nearly $300,000 from his former client, adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
District Judge Jesse Furman said Avenatti’s conduct was “so brazen and egregious”, adding that he “took advantage of a vulnerable victim given his unorthodox career and somewhat unorthodox beliefs” .
Avenatti was convicted in February of one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated impersonation. He faces up to 20 years for wire fraud and a mandatory two-year sentence for aggravated identity theft.
Avenatti is currently serving a 30-month prison sentence for attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike by threatening to release damaging information unless they pay. He will go on trial next month in California for embezzling $10 million in settlement funds from at least five clients. He was also charged with tax evasion and fraudulent bankruptcy and pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Part of Thursday’s sentence will be served alongside Nike’s sentence, but Furman said Avenatti will have to serve an additional two and a half years after serving Nike’s sentence.
Avenatti was also ordered to pay $148,750 to Daniels and $297,900 in the United States.
Furman told Avenatti: “I hope you make better use of your tremendous talents.”
Avenatti, dressed in a beige prisoner’s outfit with his ankles chained, became emotional as he addressed the judge.
“I destroyed my career, my relationships and my reputation and caused collateral damage to my family and my life,” he said, holding back tears. Avenatti argued that for most of his career he fought for the underdog.
“There is no doubt that I made a series of mistakes and showed poor judgment,” Avenatti said.
Furman said it was a “tragic, sad…sorry case,” noting that Avenatti “is pretty smart and has terrific legal skills. What changed? I don’t know the answer to this question.
He said that at some point Avenatti’s “healthy ambition” turned into “blind ambition”. The judge said Avenatti’s apology letter to Daniels was “too little, too late.”
Fall of a prominent lawyer
The legal turmoil is a dramatic turn for Avenatti, who rose to fame representing Daniels as she went public with allegations that she received a $130,000 payment just before the 2016 presidential election to silence her allegations of affair with then-candidate Donald Trump. Trump denied the affair.
On the heels of the silence scandal publicity, Avenatti helped Daniels sign an $800,000 contract. Prosecutors said Avenatti stole nearly $300,000 from the advance by fabricating a letter allegedly from Daniels redirecting payments from the book’s publisher to an account under Avenatti’s control.
At trial, Avenatti represented himself and fired his court-appointed attorneys mid-trial. Prosecutors called 10 witnesses, including Daniels, who said Avenatti lied to and betrayed her. Avenatti attacked Daniels’ credibility during cross-examination by questioning him about his belief in the paranormal and he suggested he was entitled to take part of his book advance for the work he had done even though it was not in their written contract. Avenatti did not testify or call any witnesses in his defense.
Last month, Avenatti wrote a letter of apology to Daniels, which he provided to the judge, in which he said: “Obviously I let you down in many ways and disappointed and left you. fall in many ways.” He added: “I wish we could go back so the mistakes I made never happen again. I’m so sorry.”
Clark Brewster, an attorney for Daniels, said after the sentencing: “Mistakes and misjudgments, that’s far from it. It was a deceptive scheme of lies and defamation very different from a mistake. It was not a mistake. It was calculated dishonesty.
He said Daniels was “happy to have been held accountable.”
“When we have spoken for the last few days, although she is angry at what she has done, she feels sorry for her fate and her family and me too. I think she will be happy with the resolution. Whatever what Judge Furman would have done, that would have been okay with Stormy. She’s a generous, loving, and also forgiving person,” Brewster said.
Robert Baum, Avenatti’s attorney, said Avenatti was “distraught” by his inability to practice law. He said that when Avenatti has served the full five-year sentence, including Nike’s sentence and the Daniels case, he hopes “he can have a meaningful impact on the community.”
Avenatti hugged Baum in court, waved to a row of supporters and said, “Thank you” before US Marshals dragged him out of the courtroom.
Avenatti was transferred from FCI Terminal Island in California, where he is serving Nike’s sentence, to the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York for sentencing on Thursday. He will be flown back to California for his trial next month.
This story has been updated with additional details.
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