Lawyer Michael Avenatti speaks to the media after he walks out of federal court in New York, New York, U.S., March 25, 2019.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters
Michael Avenatti, the brash lawyer who gained notoriety for legal actions involving former President Donald Trump, was sentenced Monday in California to 14 years in prison for stealing about $7.6 million from clients, as well as for tax fraud.
The 51-year-old Avenatti “has done great evil for which he must answer,” Santa Ana federal Judge James Selna said in imposing punishment on the disgraced attorney for swindling law clients who included a paraplegic with mental health problems.
Selna ordered Avenatti’s stiff prison term to run consecutive to the five years behind bars he previously received in separate criminal cases in Manhattan federal court for ripping porn star Stormy Daniels out of $297,500 in book deal money, and for a brazen extortion effort against athletic apparel giant Nike.
The judge also ordered Avenatti to pay more than $10.8 million in restitution to four clients and to the Internal Revenue Service.
Avenatti, who already was in prison for one of the prior cases, pleaded guilty in June to four counts of wire fraud and one count of trying to obstruct the administration of the federal tax code.
The tax charge related him to trying to interfere with the IRS’s effort to collect more than $3 million owed by Avenatti’s coffee business for payroll taxes.
While details of Avenatti’s scams on the client victims differed from each other, “the general pattern was the same,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum.
Avenatti “would lie about the true terms of the settlement agreement he had negotiated for the client, conceal the settlement payments that the counterparty had made, secretly take and spend the settlement proceeds that belonged to the client,” prosecutors wrote.
He then would “lull the client into not complaining or investigating further by providing small ‘advances’ on the supposedly yet-to-be paid funds,” the memo said.
Avenatti first came to widespread public attention in 2018, during Trump’s presidency, while representing Daniels in connection with her having been paid $130,000 in hush money by Trump’s personal lawyer before the 2016 election in exchange for keeping quiet about a sexual tryst she said they had.
Trump denies that he cheated on his wife Melania with the adult film actress.
For months in 2018, Avenatti was a ubiquitous presence on television news shows, where he delighted in verbally skewering the president and Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Avenatti briefly contemplated launching a campaign for the presidency, but dropped that idea weeks after he was arrested by Los Angeles police after an accusation of domestic violence by an actress with whom he had been living. The LA City Attorney later declined to lodge charges in that case.
United States Attorney Martin Estrada of the Central District of California blasted Avenatti in a statement Monday that called him “a corrupt lawyer who claimed he was fighting for the little guy.”
“In fact, he only cared about his own selfish interests,” Estrada said.
“He stole millions of dollars from his clients – all to finance his extravagant lifestyle that included a private jet and race cars,” the top prosecutor said. “As a result of his illegal acts, he has lost his right to practice law in California, and now he will serve a richly deserved prison sentence.”