Michael Avenatti Gets 14-Year Sentence for Stealing Millions From Clients
Michael Avenatti, the brash lawyer known for representing the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against former President Donald J. Trump, was sentenced on Monday to 14 years in prison for stealing millions of dollars from his clients and obstructing the Internal Revenue Service’s efforts to collect taxes from his coffee business, federal prosecutors said.
Mr. Avenatti, who rose to national prominence in 2018 while representing Ms. Daniels, was also ordered to pay nearly $11 million in restitution to the four clients he stole from, including a person who is paraplegic and has mental health issues, and to the I.R.S., the Justice Department said in a news release.
Prosecutors said Mr. Avenatti obstructed I.R.S. efforts to collect more than $3.2 million in unpaid payroll taxes, which includes money that he withheld from the paychecks of employees who worked for his coffee company, Global Baristas US LLC.
His 14-year prison sentence will run consecutively to the five-year prison term he is currently serving for two separate convictions in New York, prosecutors said. He has been in prison since Feb. 7.
“Michael Avenatti was a corrupt lawyer who claimed he was fighting for the little guy,” Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement. “In fact, he only cared about his own selfish interests.”
Mr. Avenatti, 51, represented himself in the case and could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. Before being sentenced by Judge James V. Selna of U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif., Mr. Avenatti apologized in the courtroom to the four victims in the case, The Associated Press reported.
“I am deeply remorseful and contrite,” Mr. Avenatti said. “There is no doubt that all of them deserve much better, and I hope that someday they will accept my apologies and find it in their heart to forgive me.”
The sentencing on Monday was the latest instance of Mr. Avenatti grappling with legal trouble: In 2021, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for trying to extort more than $20 million from the apparel giant Nike. In June, Mr. Avenatti was sentenced to four years in prison for defrauding Ms. Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, of $300,000.
Prosecutors’ central argument in the federal fraud case appeared to hold out: that Mr. Avenatti illegally used his clients to finance an extravagant lifestyle, one that included luxuries like racecars and a private jet.
Prosecutors said that while the details differed for each of the four clients who had their money stolen, the “general pattern was the same.” Mr. Avenatti would lie about the true terms of the settlement agreement that he had negotiated for them, conceal those settlement payments and secretly spend the money, prosecutors said. Mr. Avenatti would also “lull the client into not complaining or investigating further” by giving them small advances of the supposed “yet-to-be paid funds,” according to prosecutors.
His scheme was described by prosecutors in the sentencing memorandum as “cruel.” The prosecutors noted that Mr. Avenatti made his clients feel “beholden to him when he ‘advanced’ or ‘loaned’ them funds that were, in fact, the clients’ own money.”
“As a result of his illegal acts, he has lost his right to practice law in California,” Mr. Estrada said. “And now he will serve a richly deserved prison sentence.”
It has been a somewhat rapid downfall for Mr. Avenatti, who, after joining Ms. Daniels in her legal battle against Mr. Trump, was viewed by some as the face of Democratic opposition to the former president.
Ms. Daniels said in 2018 that she had been paid $130,000 just before the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she said she had with Mr. Trump years earlier. Mr. Trump has denied that claim and said he never had an affair with Ms. Daniels.
At the time, a fiery Mr. Avenatti condemned Mr. Trump, taking a combative, toe-to-toe approach. He appeared on late-night talk shows, telling Stephen Colbert on his program that he was “not a normal lawyer” who shied away from interviews.
His prominence grew to the point that he even considered a presidential run.
But as the lawsuits and critiques against him mounted, Mr. Avenatti’s appeal dimmed.
Tyler Hatcher, the special agent in charge of the I.R.S. Criminal Investigations Los Angeles field office, said in a statement that Mr. Avenatti had violated his clients’ trust.
“While today’s sentencing concludes the government’s case against Mr. Avenatti,” Mr. Hatcher said, “the enormous damage left behind will be felt by his former clients for quite some time.”