Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti was handed a major legal defeat Wednesday as part of the case in which he was convicted of attempting to extort sports apparel brand Nike out of millions of dollars.
In a 3-0 decision, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Avenatti’s conviction in the case and ruled against his claims that jurors weren’t properly instructed in the relevant statute. The appeals panel also rejected Avenatti’s argument that the evidence in the case didn’t support his charges of extortion and honest-services fraud.
“Avenatti’s sufficiency challenge to the extortion counts of conviction fails because the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, permitted a reasonable jury to conclude that he had no claim of right to a personal payment from Nike, let alone to a $15-25 million payment,” the Wednesday opinion stated.
“Avenatti advances several arguments in urging a contrary conclusion,” it added. “None persuades.”
Evidence in the case included bank statements, text messages, emails and witness testimony.
In February 2020, a federal jury in New York City convicted Avenatti on three counts: extortion, wire fraud and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort. The jury found that Avenatti, who was in substantial debt at the time of the attempted scheme, illegally tried to have Nike pay him up to $25 million to conduct an investigation of corruption in basketaball a year earlier.
“Today a unanimous jury found Michael Avenatti guilty of misusing his client’s information in an effort to extort tens of millions of dollars from the athletic apparel company Nike,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at the time.
“While the defendant may have tried to hide behind legal terms and a suit and tie, the jury clearly saw the defendant’s scheme for what it was – an old fashioned shakedown.”
Avenatti was ultimately sentenced to 2½ years in prison and ordered to pay $260,000 in restitution.
In addition, Avenatti was also sentenced to 14 years in prison in a separate case in which he was found guilty of stealing settlement funds from clients and failing to pay taxes for a coffee chain he owned, The Associated Press reported. And he was sentenced last year to four years in prison for cheating his former client, adult film star Stormy Daniels, out of $300,000.
“I will forever be branded ‘disgraced lawyer’ and worse,” Avenatti said after his four-year sentence in the Daniels case was handed down.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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