Pugnacious California attorney Michael Avenatti was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison for defrauding porn star Stormy Daniels while representing her in litigation against former President Donald Trump.
The disgraced lawyer stole book advance payments from Daniels in 2018 totaling more than $300,000. He had faced up to 20 years for scamming the client who made him famous.
“Because of my actions, I will never practice law again. I will forever be branded a ‘disgraced lawyer’ and worse,” Avenatti said in Manhattan Federal Court, at times sniffling. He wore beige prison garb and shackles around his ankles.
“I have destroyed my career, my relationships, and my reputation,” he said. “And done collateral damage to my family and my life.”
Avenatti, 51, made an employee send a forged a letter to the publisher of Daniels’ memoir “Full Disclosure” ordering the advance payments go to accounts he controlled. He then lied to Daniels for months that the money had yet to be paid, trial evidence showed.
Avenatti has already been sentenced to 2½ years for trying to shakedown Nike for more than $20 million. Judge Jesse Furman’s sentence for the Daniels scam runs partially concurrent with the sentence in the Nike case. Avenatti now faces a total of five years in prison for both cases. He’s still fighting a possible retrial in California for allegedly scamming other clients out of millions of dollars.
The judge said Avenatti’s “blind ambition” fueled his “egregious” crimes.
The lawyer, who elected to represent himself at trial, abused his position and breached the duty of loyalty he had to his client “in a despicable way, by brazenly stealing from Ms. Daniels and lying to her face and then defaming her when she called him on his conduct,” Furman said.
“Far from being a loyal advocate for his client, Michael Avenatti stole his client’s identity and her money in order to line his own pockets,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.
Daniels, 43, didn’t attend the sentencing. Her lawyer Clark Brewster thanked the prosecution and said the prison term brought “finality to an ordeal that Stormy has endured for the past three years.”
The feds said Avenatti’s lies continued right up until the end of the trial. During closing arguments, the first words out of his mouth — “when my father was a teenager, he sold hot dogs at a ballpark” — were untrue.
It turned out the anecdote was commonly told by a federal defender assisting Avenatti at the trial, prosecutors wrote.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, testified for the prosecution and maintained a calm demeanor under questioning by the lawyer who duped her. He grilled Daniels about her work on the web series “Spooky Babes” and her belief in the paranormal.
The bulldog barrister peppered Daniels with questions about the show and sought to portray her as a delusional woman with a grudge. But in a recent email ahead of his sentencing, he apologized and said he wished he could “turn back the clock.”
Furman said the letter was too little too late.
“I think it’s clear Mr. Avenatti thought he’d get away with it because people would believe him over Ms. Daniels given her unorthodox career and somewhat unorthodox beliefs,” the judge said.
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