News USA Lawyer Michael Avenatti, sentenced to 14 years in prison in California for...

Lawyer Michael Avenatti, sentenced to 14 years in prison in California for embezzling his clients

Michael Avenatti, in July 2019, at a press conference representing alleged victims of singer R. Kelly.KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI (AFP)

Once known as a celebrity lawyer, Michael Avenatti received another blow to his reputation on Monday. Federal judge James Selna has sentenced him this morning to 14 years in prison for embezzling four of his clients and tax fraud. The togado also ordered the lawyer to pay seven million dollars to his victims. Avenatti, who gained notoriety defending porn star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, had already received a prison sentence in New York this summer for extortion and fraud. He must first serve that sentence and then the one he has received in court in Santa Ana, California.

Avenatti had already pleaded guilty to four charges filed by the Prosecutor’s Office, which accused him of diverting money from his clients to accounts that he operated and that he was requesting 17 years in prison. There was no agreement on the amount of embezzlement. Avenatti assured that it was 3.4 million dollars, but the Government believes that the figure was around 12 million.

Unlike other defendants, the lawyer acknowledged his responsibility for the offenses without negotiating less years in prison with the prosecution. “I am deeply sorry and sorry,” Avenatti said this morning by way of apology to three of his clients, who were present to hear his sentence.

Described as a lawyer with a strong personality and used to defending himself in some of the processes, Avenatti spoke of himself in the third person. “The defendant deserves just punishment for his crimes, including prison time,” the attorney wrote in a memo to the judge, according to los angeles times. “Furthermore, he deserves to lose his license to practice law, his 22-year career, his assets and countless personal and professional relationships, and his reputation,” he added in the document.

Judge Selna acknowledged that Avenatti, 51, had done many “noble” actions during his life, but that he had also “done a lot of wrong.” One of his affected clients was Geoffrey Ernest Johnson, a paraplegic and mentally ill man who won a lawsuit against Los Angeles County. Johnson should have received $4 million after the litigation, but received only $124,000 from his lawyer. “To this day I don’t know why Michael lied and misled me, why he broke my trust and broke my heart,” Johnson told the court in a written statement.

This same pattern was present in other cases of his clients. During the process it was learned that the basketball player of the Miami Heat, Hassan Whiteside, transferred to Avenatti 2.7 million dollars. The lawyer defended the athlete’s girlfriend, Alexis Gardner, and was the first in a lawsuit between the couple that was not publicly disclosed. The total payment would be three million dollars, of which Avenatti would be entitled to a third part for representation expenses. Instead, prosecutors say, Avenatti concealed the payment from Gardner and used $2.5 million to buy part of an eight-seater private jet. Instead, he told his client that he would receive the money from him in 96 payments over the next eight years. Judge Selna launched during the trial a process to confiscate the plane from the lawyer.

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A grand jury also found that Avenatti had pocketed another $4 million from Michelle Phan, a makeup artist-turned-YouTube celebrity with a channel followed by eight million people. He was also found guilty of extorting $25 million from the multinational Nike in exchange for not generating bad publicity for them.

Perhaps the case for which Avenatti is most remembered is that of Stephanie Clifford, better known by the name under which she films adult films, Stormy Daniels. The actress claimed to have received $130,000 from Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s lawyer, in exchange for keeping quiet about an alleged sexual relationship in 2006 between the interpreter and the Republican presidential candidate.

Avenatti became a regular face on the 2016 presidential campaign newscasts, discussing how the Trump circle had gagged his client. Her attorney released her from her nondisclosure agreement, leading the way to a juicy book where Daniels would tell all. The actress accused Avenatti of pocketing the advance money, about $300,000. He went on to counterattack, questioning the mental health of Clifford, who is the producer of a television program on paranormal phenomena. The jury, however, agreed with the interpreter, for which Avenatti was sentenced to two years. This is part of a long sentence that she has to serve.

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