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Michael Avenatti was sentenced Thursday to 2.5 years in prison for his attempts to extort Nike for roughly $22.5 million over a scheme he had claimed involved Nike, college basketball and brand contracts.
A New York federal court issued the sentence to Avenatti after an explosive complaint by prosecutors more than two years ago, in which they accused him of threatening Nike and its attorneys that he would go public with what he claimed to be damaging details about Nike employees’ alleged role in steering high school basketball players to certain colleges.
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“The verdict and sentence speak for themselves,” Nike said in a statement. Attorneys for Avenatti could not immediately be reached for comment.
In the spring of 2019, Avenatti threatened to hold a press conference to publicize his allegations right at the start of the NCAA tournament and before a Nike earnings call, prosecutors at the New York Southern District had alleged in their complaint.
But Nike had already been cooperating with investigators for more than a year by that point. In phone calls surreptitiously recorded by law enforcement, Avenatti was heard demanding that Nike should hire him to conduct an internal investigation for the company over his basketball allegations, prosecutors said at the time.
Avenatti had sought to be paid between $15 million and $25 million for such an internal investigation, or to be paid a $22.5 million settlement to keep his allegations silent.
Avenatti, who gained prominence by representing Stormy Daniels in her suit against former President Donald Trump, was convicted in February last year on counts of threats and extortion.
“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,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in a statement Thursday.
“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,” Strauss said. “Avenatti will now serve substantial time in prison for his criminal conduct.”
Attorneys for Nike have also asked the New York federal court to grant it $1 million in restitution for what the company characterized as “substantial harm” to the company.
“Financially, Nike has incurred costs and expenses assisting in the government’s investigation, addressing Mr. Avenatti’s ongoing false attacks on the company following his arrest, preparing for and participating in Mr. Avenatti’s trial and pursuing a just sentence and fair restitution,” Nike’s lawyers said in court filings. “Those amounts include time and expenses incurred by the company’s own employees as well as the company’s outside lawyers.”