Avenatti sentenced to 14 years in prison in California fraud case

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Incarcerated attorney Michael Avenatti was sentenced Monday to 14 years in prison in Southern California and ordered to pay more than $10 million in restitution after he admitted to cheating four of his clients out of millions of dollars.

The sentence should be consecutive to the five years in prison he is currently serving for separate convictions in New York, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna said during a hearing in Santa Ana, Calif.

It is the last of three major federal criminal cases to end against the 51-year-old Californian, who rose to fame representing porn actor Stormy Daniels during his legal battles with Donald Trump and became one of the main adversaries of the former president.

Avenatti pleaded guilty earlier this year to four counts of wire fraud and a tax-related charge despite failing to reach a plea deal with federal prosecutors, saying he wanted to be responsible 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 and spending it on his own lavish lifestyle, including a private jet.

“Despite the significant advantages this defendant had — a top-notch education, a thriving legal career — he chose to commit the deplorable acts in this case time and time again,” prosecutor Brett Sagel told the court. “The defendant is just another criminal who thinks the law applies to other people.”

His voice cracking, Avenatti apologized to the clients he defrauded, including two who told the court how the loss of the money and their trust in someone they thought had turned their lives upside down.

“I am deeply remorseful and contrite,” Avenatti said. “There is no doubt that they all deserve much better, and I hope that one day they will accept my apology and find the courage in their hearts to forgive me.”

Avenatti is currently serving a prison sentence for stealing proceeds from a book of Daniels – who sued for breaking a confidentiality agreement with Trump to remain a mom over an affair she said she had – and for trying to extort Nike if the cobbler didn’t pay him up to $25 million.

In California, authorities said Avenatti carried out what amounted to a “sophisticated Ponzi scheme” by collecting settlement payments on behalf of vulnerable clients and using the money to fund his exorbitant lifestyle.

In one case, prosecutors said Avenatti collected a $2.75 million settlement payment for a client and used much of the money to buy a private plane.

In another, he collected a $4 million settlement from Los Angeles County for a man who suffered injuries in custody and became paraplegic after a suicide attempt, but was never told the money had been received. Instead, authorities said Avenatti used the funds to finance his coffee business and pay for personal expenses, and gave the man smaller sums ranging from $1,000 to $1,900 than he called advances on the larger settlement.

The man, Geoffrey Johnson, told the court the deception was about more than money.

“I’m not sure I can ever trust anyone else again,” Johnson said. “I keep having nightmares that people are out to get me. My view of humanity has definitely changed, and not for the better.

In addition to the prison sentence, Avenatti was ordered to pay more than $7 million in restitution to his clients and more than $3 million to the Internal Revenue Service. The government dropped all other remaining charges against Avenatti resulting from a 36-count indictment.

Authorities said the case against Avenatti began as a civil tax matter but expanded into a full-scale criminal investigation.

Avenatti, who represented himself in the proceedings, asked the court to consider the good he did as a lawyer before and apart from his crimes. He referenced helping the Trump administration reunite immigrant children separated from their parents and representing a rape victim while out on bail in the case. He said a long sentence at his age would not give him a meaningful chance to do good for his victims or be a father to his children.

Selna noted that Avenatti had done a lot of good in his life, but said that was not all.

“He also did great harm, for which he responds a lot,” said the judge before sentencing him. “Now is the time to pay its debts to the victims, to the government and to society.”

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