Michael Avenatti sentenced to 14 years in prison for stealing millions from clients



CNN

Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti was sentenced Monday to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $11 million in restitution for embezzling millions of dollars from four of his clients and obstruction.

Avenatti pleaded guilty earlier this year to four counts of wire fraud for each customer he stole from and one count of attempting to obstruct the administration of the tax code. Prosecutors said he obstructed IRS efforts to collect $5 million in unpaid payroll taxes for Tully’s Coffee.

The sentence handed down by Federal District Judge James Selna will begin after Avenatti completes a five-year prison sentence he is currently serving after being found guilty in two separate trials in New York.

Selna also ordered Avenatti to pay more than $10 million in restitution to four clients and the IRS.

“Michael Avenatti was a corrupt attorney who claimed he was fighting for the little guy. In fact, he only cared about his own selfish interests,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement after the sentencing. stole millions of dollars from his clients – all to fund his extravagant lifestyle which included a private jet and racing cars. As a result of his illegal acts, he lost his right to practice law in California, and now he will serve a well-deserved prison sentence.

Dean Steward, an attorney for Avenatti, said in a statement to CNN that the sentence “was too harsh and unjustified”, adding that his client had described her in court as “out of the ordinary”.

“Compared to similar high-profile cases, the injustice is stark,” Steward said.

Monday’s sentence represents the latest installment in an extraordinary, years-long legal drama surrounding Avenatti, including the portrayal of Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who alleged she had an affair with the former President Donald Trump years before his candidacy made the pugnacious lawyer a household name.

“Avenatti’s fraud was egregious and the court obviously wanted to send a strong message. But a 14-year sentence is extraordinarily long given all the circumstances,” said Elie Honig, CNN’s senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

The prison sentence Avenatti is currently serving came after he was found guilty of attempting to extort millions of dollars from Nike and stealing nearly $300,000 from a book advance from Daniels, his client. of the time. (Trump denied having an affair with Daniels.)

Avenatti had faced a legal maximum of 83 years in prison in the California case.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department dropped the remaining 31 counts of fraud Avenatti faced after he agreed to plead guilty to the handful of charges. Federal prosecutors said in a court filing at the time that they would not move forward with the remaining 31 counts of wire fraud, bank fraud and tax charges because the judge could review these allegations when he finally condemned Avenatti.

In pleading guilty earlier this year, Avenatti admitted stealing millions of dollars from clients, including $4 million from a client with a major disability. According to the indictment, after Avenatti brokered settlements for clients that demanded payment, he allegedly lied to clients about the terms of the settlements, instead depositing the funds in attorney trust accounts he controlled. . He would then embezzle and embezzle those funds, according to the indictment, and to prevent discovery of his scheme, he would tell clients that the settlement proceeds had not yet been paid, among other tactics.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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