Lawyer Michael Avenatti, who rose to fame by criticizing former President Donald Trump, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for attempting to extort up to 25 million dollars from Nike by threatening bad publicity against the company.
Gary Franklin Sr., a Los Angeles youth basketball league organizer, had approached Avenatti in early 2019 after Nike declined to renew an annual sponsorship deal worth over $70,000 annually. After listening to Franklin, Avenatti approached Nike.
He informed Nike that his client revealed the company’s alleged pay-for-play payments to the families of three players. Paying players and their families is a violation of NCAA rules, and makes players ineligible for college play. The attorney demanded Nike pay 25 million dollars or face bad publicity.
According to court documents, Avenatti threatened a Nike lawyer by saying he would “take 10 billion dollars of your client’s” stock market capitalization, reports The Epoch Times. “I’m not [expletive] around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” he said.
“You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem… A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me,” Avenatti said in a Mar. 20, 2019, phone call with Nike attorneys that was recorded by the FBI, reported CNBC.
At the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Gardephe called Avenatti’s conduct “outrageous. He hijacked his client’s claims, and he used him to further his own agenda, which was to extort Nike [for] millions of dollars for himself.”
“He outright betrayed his client. Mr. Avenatti had become drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived the power of his platform to be,” the judge added, as reported by Breitbart.
The jury convicted him on three counts of a felony – transmission of interstate communications with an intent to extort, attempted extortion, and honest services wire fraud. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky sought “substantial imprisonment” for Avenatti because he used his client “as a way to get himself rich.”
In contrast, his defense lawyers sought a six-month jail term and year-long home detention. Ultimately, Avenatti was given a jail term of two and a half years.
At the court, Avenatti admitted to his mistakes. “I and I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships, and my life… Your honor, I’ve learned that all the fame, notoriety, and money in the world is meaningless. TV and Twitter, your honor, mean nothing,” Avenatti said, as reported by the Associated Press. The lawyer added that he expects his three children to be ashamed of him “because if they are ashamed, it means their moral compass is exactly where it should be.”
In a statement, Avenatti’s client, Gary Franklin, said that the lawyer’s actions “devastated me financially, professionally and emotionally.” Nike attorneys said that Avenatti had done considerable harm to the company by falsely linking them to the 2018 NCAA pay-for-play recruiting scandal.
Avenatti will also be facing a trial next year for charges of defrauding adult film actress Stormy Daniels for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Avenatti represented Daniels in lawsuits against Trump in 2018, during which he often appeared on TV news channels to badmouth the former president.
The lawyer floated the idea of running against Trump in 2020, saying that he would “have no problem raising money.” In 2019, Avenatti was charged with doctoring a document to divert about $300,000 Daniels had earned from a book deal and spending the money on personal and business expenses.
Flawed media coverage
Following Avenatti’s sentencing, CBS News correspondent Jamie Wax admitted that the press failed in its coverage of the anti-Trump lawyer.
In the “This Morning” program, host Tony Dokoupil stated that Avenatti had “big financial problems” and “went about getting it the wrong way.” On the show, Wax said, “Maybe we went about covering him the wrong way, in a way… The press, collectively.”
A 2018 report by Washington Free Beacon revealed that Avenatti had earned around 175 million dollars in free media over the course of two months during appearances on news channels to discuss an alleged Daniels-Trump scandal.
“The total came out to $174,631,598.07 from at least 65 CNN appearances and 43 MSNBC appearances. Avenatti’s favorite shows include CNN’s ‘Anderson Cooper 360’ (at least 20 interviews), MSNBC’s ‘The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell’ (14), CNN’s ‘New Day’ (12), CNN’s ‘Tonight with Don Lemon’ (eight), and MSNBC’s ‘Deadline White House’ (seven),” the report said.
On CBS, Avenatti appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Good Morning America, and This Morning.