Michael Avenatti was sentenced to two and a half years in federal prison on Thursday, more than a year after the brash California attorney was convicted of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike.
Avenatti, 50, rose to national prominence when he represented Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who said she was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about a sexual relationship with Donald Trump before he was president.
While working for Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, Avenatti became a regular guest on cable news shows and an outspoken critic of Trump.
But federal prosecutors said the attorney used his newfound fame and national audience as a weapon against Nike, trying to extort millions of dollars from the company with threats to accuse employees of misconduct.
"Michael Avenatti used illegal and extortionate threats and betrayed one of his clients for the purpose of seeking to obtain millions of dollars for himself," Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. "Not only did Avenatti attempt to weaponize his law license and celebrity to seek to extort payments for himself, he also defrauded his own client."
In March 2019, Avenatti threatened to hold a press conference, timing it just before Nike's earnings call, if the company didn't pay millions of dollars to settle damaging allegations raised by his client.
"I'll take ten billion dollars off your client's market cap," he told Nike attorneys, according to the complaint. "I'm not fucking around."
Avenatti demanded that Nike pay his client $1.5 million to stop them from going public with the allegations, prosecutors said, and also that the sportswear giant hire Avenatti for a supposed "internal investigation" at a cost of at least $15 million.
As an alternative, Avenatti also suggested a total payment of $22.5 million to settle the case and to "buy his silence," according to the United States Attorney's Office Southern District of New York.
In court Thursday, US District Judge Paul Gardephe called Avenatti's actions "outrageous."
"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 said, according to the Associated Press.
Avenatti still faces more legal trouble. The 50-year-old attorney also faces federal charges for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars in profits from Daniels' book, Full Disclosure.