(Headline USA) Former Democrat presidential hopeful Michael Avenatti was sentenced Thursday to 2½ years in prison for cheating client Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who catapulted him to fame, of hundreds of thousands of dollars in book proceeds.
Once a darling of the leftist cable news media, Avenatti regularly attacked then-President Donald Trump, using Daniels’s lawsuit against Trump as his main cudgel.
Daniels and former Playboy bunny Karen McDougal both claimed to have been paid hush money during the 2016 campaign to remain quiet about trysts with the thrice-wed future president 10 years prior, shortly after his marriage to future First Lady Melania Trump.
Financial records and testimony from former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen both point to the two having been paid off by Cohen to remain quiet, although Trump has never expressly confirmed the affairs or acknowledged any direct role in the payoff.
Avenatti later attempted to cash in on the spurious rape allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by representing a client who falsely claimed to have participated in wild orgies with the future justice.
At the peak of his fame, he openly mused about seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in the 2020 race. But Avenatti’s own hubris quickly undid him after he attempted to defraud Daniels and to extort the Nike athletic apparel company.
The California lawyer, currently incarcerated, learned his fate in Manhattan federal court, where Judge Jesse M. Furman said the sentence will mean that he will spend another 2½ years in prison in the Daniels case—on top of the 2½ years he is already serving in the Nike case for threatening to ruin the shoemaker’s reputation if it did not pay him up to $25 million.
And he faces a retrial in California on charges that he cheated clients and others of millions of dollars there.
The judge said Avenatti’s crime against Daniels was made “out of desperation” when his law firm was struggling. He called Avenatti’s behavior “craven and egregious” and blamed it on “blind ambition.”
Prior to sentencing being announced, Avenatti, wearing his prison uniform, choked up several times as he delivered a lengthy statement, saying he had “disappointed scores of people and failed in a cataclysmic way.”
At trial earlier this year, Avenatti represented himself, cross-examining his former client for hours about their experiences in early 2018, when she signed a book deal that provided an $800,000 payout. Prosecutors said he illegally pocketed about $300,000 of her advance on Full Disclosure, published in fall 2018.
Daniels was not in court. A lawyer spoke on her behalf, saying it was “truly shocking” that Avenatti tried to portray himself as a champion of his clients during his statement.
In a presentence submission, Avenatti’s lawyers cited an apology letter Avenatti recently wrote to Daniels in which he said: “I am truly sorry.”
But prosecutors in a sentencing submission last week urged that that he should face “substantial” additional time in prison for a wire fraud conviction and criticized his apology letter, saying the 51-year-old failed to apologize for his actual crime.
And they recalled that he had “berated his victim for lewd language and being a difficult client, questioned her invasively about marital and familial difficulties, and sought to cast her as crazy, much as he did during the course of his fraud to prevent her own agent and publisher from responding to her pleas for help” during “an extremely lengthy” cross-examination.
“The defendant certainly had every right to defend himself at trial,” prosecutors wrote. “But he is not entitled to a benefit for showing remorse, having done so only when convenient and only after seeking to humiliate his victim at a public trial, and denigrating and insulting her for months to her agent and publisher while holding himself out as taking up her cause against the powerful who might have taken advantage of her.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press