Michael Avenatti has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for embezzling millions of dollars of his clients’ money and obstruction.
The disgraced lawyer pleaded guilty earlier this year in Santa Ana, California, to four counts of wire fraud for each client he stole from and one count of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service’s efforts to collect $5m in unpaid payroll tax.
Avenatti, who gained fame for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her legal battles against Donald Trump, will not start serving it until he has completed a five-year sentence for two separate convictions in New York.
He was previously convicted of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike, as well as stealing nearly $300,000 from a book advance from then-client Ms Daniels.
Avenatti became a leading public critic of Mr Trump and even considered his own presidential run before being hit with federal charges in 2019.
Prosecutors said that Avenatti would secure settlement payments for clients but then lie about the details and deposit the funds into attorney trust accounts and embezzle it.
Authorities said that he would then tell the clients that he had not yet been paid the money. One of the clients, from whom he embezzled $4m, suffered from major disabilities, said prosecutors.
Geoffrey Ernest Johnson, was a mentally ill paraplegic when Avenatti secured him the multi-million dollar settlement with Los Angeles County.
“To this day, I do not know why Michael lied and deceived me, why he broke my trust, why he broke my heart,” Mr Johnson wrote in a statement to the court. “I trusted him implicitly, I believed the things he told me, but it was all part of his plan to defraud me of my settlement. To this day, I have a hard time trusting people because of what Michael did, and I live in constant fear of being taken advantage of again, particularly given my physical disability.”
Avenatti also stole a $2.75m settlement that he obtained for Alexis Gardner from her former boyfriend, NBA player Hassan Whiteside. The court was told that he used the money to buy a private jet, which the government has been given permission to confiscate.
Avenatti, 51, was also to pay nearly $8m in restitution to his victims and $3.2m to the government.
Federal district Judge James Selna told the court at the sentencing hearing that Avenatti had done “good things in his life,” but had “also done great evil.”
“Your honour, at no point in time did I set out to bilk my clients,” Avenatti, who wore a prison uniform in court, told the judge.
He told the court that he was “deeply remorseful and contrite.” and added that there was “no doubt that all of them deserved much better.” And he later added: “I am not an evil or vile man.”
“Michael Avenatti was a corrupt lawyer who claimed he was fighting for the little guy. In fact, he only cared about his own selfish interests,” US Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement following the sentencing. “He stole millions of dollars from his clients – all to finance his extravagant lifestyle that included a private jet and race cars. As a result of his illegal acts, he has lost his right to practice law in California, and now he will serve a richly deserved prison sentence.”