By Erik Larson
Published:July 6, 2021
Convicted lawyer Michael Avenatti’s request for a new trial was denied as a judge ruled prosecutors’ allegedly improper conduct didn’t impact a jury that found he tried to extort $25 million from Nike Inc.
The ruling ensures that Avenatti, who was found guilty in February 2020 after a three-week trial in Manhattan, will be sentenced this week after a long delay caused by the pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe rejected Avenatti’s claim that prosecutors failed to hand over evidence that could have helped him at trial, including notes about a witness — a former employee of Avenatti’s — indicating she’d felt threatened by a tweet posted by someone who wasn’t involved in the case. But the witness was “inconsequential” because her testimony related to Avenatti’s financial distress rather than the crimes he was accused of, according to the ruling.
Even her limited testimony wasn’t crucial, Gardephe said, because “there was abundant evidence that Avenatti was in financial distress.”
After initially ordering a July 9 sentence date on Tuesday, Gardephe issued a second order, moving the sentencing to July 8.
The judge also rejected Avenatti’s claim that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he had an “intent to defraud” Nike, and that the laws he was accused of violating were vague as applied to the case. Gardephe also denied Avenatti’s argument that the court improperly excluded some text messages and emails that the lawyer believed would have helped his case.
The Probation Office calculated that Avenatti, who gained a national profile while representing the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, should spend 11 to 14 years in prison. Avenatti had asked the judge to give him no more than six months.
Avenatti’s attorney Scott Srebnick didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Avenatti’s legal woes are far from over. He’s due to go on trial again next month in California on federal charges accusing him of defrauding clients and ripping off banks. And early next year a third trial is scheduled — back in Manhattan — on federal charges alleging he stole Daniels’s book advance.
The case is U.S. v. Avenatti, 19-cr-373, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).