- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2022

Michael Avenatti, the high-profile lawyer who took on President Trump, was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison for cheating his most famous client, porn star Stormy Daniels.

Combined with his previous conviction for attempting to extort Nike, he now faces a total of five years behind bars — and it could still grow. He has yet another trial on separate fraud charges slated to begin in California later this summer.

Avenatti, in a lengthy statement to the court during his sentencing, said he’d made “mistakes” and had “disappointed scores of people and failed in a cataclysmic way.”

“I will forever be branded ‘disgraced lawyer’ and worse,” he said, according to reports from the courtroom.

It’s a dramatic fall for a man who just a few years ago was making the rounds of early presidential primary states to test a run for Democrats’ presidential nomination, and who was celebrated by liberal news networks, notching more than 100 appearances apiece on CNN and MSNBC before his legal world came crashing down in 2019.

Many of those appearances were to talk about his work for Ms. Daniels, who had claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump.

But even as he was representing her, he was also bilking her, a jury in New York concluded earlier this year, swindling her out of $297,500 from advance payments on a book deal. He was convicted on charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

He had told the court he thought he was entitled to the money.

In 2020, he was convicted of trying to extort Nike by threatening to go public with allegations the sports apparel company was illicitly paying amateur basketball players.

He still faces trial in California on multiple accounts of fraud. A mistrial was declared last summer in a previous iteration after the judge ruled federal prosecutors didn’t reveal relevant financial data to Avenatti, who was representing himself.

Avenatti earned a 2 1/2-year sentence for the Nike case and was slapped with four more years in the Daniels case. Judge Jesse M. Furman said some of that will be served concurrently, leaving him with a total of five years behind bars.

Robert Baum, a lawyer for Avenatti, told reporters after the sentencing that his client has already suffered, serving some of his pretrial detention time in near-isolation a high-security wing of a New York jail.

“He hopes, as well as his lawyers hope, that when he completes his sentence he’ll still be able to have a significant impact on the community and it is his desire to do that in some way,” Mr. Baum said.

Avenatti took on Ms. Daniels as a client in 2018 as she was seeking to navigate a nondisclosure agreement she had reached with Mr. Trump over her claims of an affair. He helped negotiate a book deal and then faked Ms. Daniels’ signature to arrange for payments to be sent directly to him, then lied to Ms. Daniels by claiming the money had not come in.

Avenatti spent the money on his own interests.

“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,” said Damien Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Ms. Daniels was not in court for Thursday’s sentencing. But Clark Brewster, her lawyer, said she felt some sympathy for the man who’d helped catapult her to national fame.

“Although she was angry about what he did, she was sorry for his plight and his family,” Mr. Brewster said.

He also took shots at Avenatti’s legal abilities, saying that when the new legal team took over the handling of Ms. Daniels, they found the case in disarray.

“His legal scholarship was seriously in doubt,” Mr. Brewster said.

That wasn’t always the case.

George Washington University, where Avenatti earned his law degree, had tapped him to be on the law school’s board of advisers, and the school used to issue an annual Michael J. Avenatti Award for Excellence in Pre-Trial Advocacy. After his first conviction in 2020, the school quietly cut the award from its program.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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