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

CNN 12/5/2022 Devan Cole

Disgraced attorney 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 client he stole from and one count of endeavoring to obstruct the administration of the Internal Revenue Code. Prosecutors said he obstructed the IRS’ effort 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 term he’s currently serving after being convicted in two separate trials in New York.

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

“Michael Avenatti was a corrupt lawyer who claimed he was fighting for the little guy. In fact, he only cared about his own selfish interests,” US Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement following the sentencing. “He stole millions of dollars from his clients – all to finance his extravagant lifestyle that included a private jet and race cars. As a result of his illegal acts, he has lost his right to practice law in California, and now he will serve a richly deserved prison sentence.”

Dean Steward, an attorney for Avenatti, said in a statement to CNN that the sentence “was overly harsh and uncalled for,” adding that his client described it in court as being “off the charts.”

“When compared with similar high-profile cases, the unfairness is glaring,” Steward said.

Monday’s sentence represents the latest episode in an extraordinary years-long legal drama surrounding Avenatti, whose representation of Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who alleged she had an affair with former President Donald Trump years before he ran for office, made the pugnacious attorney a household name.

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

The prison sentence Avenatti is currently serving was given after he was convicted for attempting to extort millions of dollars from Nike and stealing nearly $300,000 from a book advance from Daniels, his then-client. (Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels.)

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

Earlier this year, the Justice Department dropped the 31 remaining fraud counts Avenatti was facing after he agreed to plead guilty to the handful of charges. Federal prosecutors said in a court filing at the time that they wouldn’t move ahead with the remaining 31 counts of wire fraud, bank fraud and tax-related charges because the judge could consider those allegations when he eventually sentenced Avenatti.

In pleading guilty earlier this year, Avenatti admitted to stealing millions of dollars from clients, including $4 million from a client with major disabilities. According to the indictment, after Avenatti negotiated settlements for the clients that required payment to go to them, he would lie to the clients about the terms of the settlements, instead depositing the funds into attorney trust accounts he controlled. He would then embezzle and misappropriate those funds, according to the indictment, and to prevent discovery of his scheme, he would tell clients the settlement proceeds hadn’t yet been paid, among other tactics.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Kara Scannell contributed to this report.

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