The incarcerated lawyer Michael Avenatti was sentenced in southern California on Monday to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay $7m in restitution after admitting he cheated four of his clients out of millions of dollars.
The sentence should run consecutively to the five-year prison term he is already serving for separate convictions in New York, the US district judge James V Selna said during a hearing in Santa Ana, California.
Avenatti pleaded guilty this year to four counts of wire fraud and a tax-related charge without reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors, saying he wanted to be accountable and spare his family further embarrassment. He was accused of negotiating and collecting settlement payments on behalf of his clients and funneling the money to accounts he controlled.
Before sentencing, Avenatti apologized to the four victims in the case, three of whom were in the courtroom.
“I am deeply remorseful and contrite,” 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 prosecutor Brett Sagel told the court that Avenatti’s criminal conduct “arose from calculated choices and egregious violations of the trust” his clients placed in him.
“He didn’t turn to his criminal actions by desperation, by need, by the inability to do anything else,” Sagel said. “Despite the significant advantages that this defendant had – a first-rate education, a thriving legal career – he chose to commit the deplorable acts in this case time and time again.”
The government dropped all other remaining charges against Avenatti stemming from a 36-count indictment.
Avenatti is serving time in a southern California prison on two separate cases. He was convicted of stealing book proceeds from Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who catapulted him to fame as he represented her during her legal battles with Donald Trump, and of trying to extort Nike if the shoemaker didn’t pay him up to $25m.
Avenatti represented Daniels in her lawsuit to break a confidentiality agreement with Trump to stay mum about an affair she said they had and he became one of Trump’s leading adversaries, attacking him on cable news programs and Twitter.
In California, prosecutors said Avenatti had collected $4m from Los Angeles county for a man who suffered in-custody injuries and was left paraplegic after a suicide attempt, but he had denied the settlement was received and had paid the man smaller amounts ranging from $1,000 to $1,900 that he called advances on the broader settlement. In one instance, prosecutors said, Avenatti collected a $2.75m settlement payment for a client and used much of the money to buy a private airplane.
In another, he collected a $4m settlement from Los Angeles county for a man who suffered in-custody injuries and was left paraplegic after a suicide attempt, but never told him the money was received. Instead, authorities said Avenatti used the funds to finance his coffee business and pay personal expenses and gave the man smaller amounts ranging from $1,000 to $1,900 that he called advances on the broader settlement.
The man, Geoffrey Johnson, told the court the deception was about more than money.
“I am not sure I ever can trust anyone else again,” Johnson said. “I continue to have nightmares that people are out to get me. My view of humanity has certainly changed, and not for the better.”
Prosecutors had asked for Avenatti to be sentenced to an additional 17.5 years in prison on top of the five he is already serving.
Avenatti, who represented himself in the proceedings, asked that he be given a sentence of no more than six years that would run concurrently to the time he is serving.
He asked the court to consider the good he did as a lawyer before and aside from his crimes. He referenced helping reunite immigrant children separated from their parents by the Trump administration and representing a rape victim while out on bail in this case. He said a lengthy sentence at his age would not give him a meaningful chance to do right by his victims or to be a father to his children.
Selna noted Avenatti had done much good in his life, but said that wasn’t all.
“He has also done great evil, for which he much answer,” the judge said before sentencing him. “It is now time to pay his debts to the victims, the government and society.”