Michael Avenatti, the celebrity lawyer, was sentenced Thursday to 30 months in prison for trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening the company with bad publicity.
That sentence was much lower than the nine years that was the bottom of the sentencing range suggested by federal guidelines, and not close to “a substantial” prison term sought by federal prosecutors for the California lawyer.
“I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships and my life. And there is no doubt I need to pay,” Avenatti, 50, tearfully told Manhattan federal court Judge Paul Gardephe before he was sentenced. “I am truly sorry for all of the pain I caused to Mr. Franklin and others,” Avenatti said referring to his former client Gary Franklin an amateur basketball coach.
Avenatti was found guilty of transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, attempted extortion and honest services wire fraud. The convictions carry a combined potential penalty of 42 years in prison. Prosecutors said the lawyer threatened to publicly accuse Nike of illicitly paying amateur basketball players unless the company paid him millions of dollars. Franklin had retained Avenatti after Nike had ended its sponsorship of a Los Angeles youth basketball league he organized.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe said, “Mr. Avenatti’s conduct was outrageous…He hijacked his client’s claims, and he used them to further his own agenda, which was to extort Nike millions of dollars for himself.”
Avenatti, the judge added, “had become drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived the power of his platform to be. He had become someone who operated as if the laws and the rules that applied to everyone else didn’t apply to him.”
The judge also sentenced Avenatti to three years of supervised release for the case.
Nike’s reaction to the decision was brief. “The verdict and sentence speak for themselves,” Nike said in a media statement.
Photo courtesy Reuters