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Michael Avenatti sentenced to 14 years for defrauding clients

The disgraced and disbarred lawyer will have to serve the sentence on top of the two others he received in New York.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who rose to national fame representing adult movie star Stormy Daniels in her legal spat with former President Donald Trump, was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for stealing millions of dollars from his clients.

Avenatti, 51, was also ordered to pay $10.8 million in restitution to four clients and the Internal Revenue Service at his sentencing Monday in federal court in Santa Ana, California.

“Michael Avenatti was a corrupt lawyer who claimed he was fighting for the little guy," U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement. "In fact, he only cared about his own selfish interests. He stole millions of dollars from his clients — all to finance his extravagant lifestyle that included a private jet and race cars."

The disbarred attorney will serve the 14 years on top of the two prison terms he received in New York — four years for stealing Daniels' payments for her tell-all book and 30 months for trying to extort Nike.

Avenatti pleaded guilty in June to stealing a total of $7.9 million from four of his clients, including from one man who had ended up a paraplegic as a result of his incarceration in Los Angeles County jail and who had received a $4-million settlement. The attorney also pleaded guilty to obstructing the IRS effort to collect $3.2 million in payroll taxes from his coffee business, which the government said was partially funded by the money he had stolen from clients.

In his bid for leniency, Avenatti asked to be sentenced to no more than six years in prison, to be served concurrently with his New York sentences.

"Defendant’s cataclysmic fall and the resulting humiliation has played out in a very public way, across three years, nationwide and, due to the way he was charged (across three cases and two coasts), repeatedly," according to his sentencing memorandum. "He will forever be branded with his criminal convictions and the title 'disgraced former attorney.'”

H. Dean Steward, an attorney who assisted Avenatti in his case, called the 14-year sentence unduly harsh.

"Today's sentence was 'off the charts' harsh and unfair," Steward said. "Compared to other similar high-profile fraud cases, what is effectively a 19-year sentence is unfair on its face."

The California embezzlement case against Avenatti resulted in a mistrial last year after U.S. District Judge James Selna ruled on technical grounds that federal prosecutors had failed to turn over relevant financial evidence to the lawyer. At that time, he still denied stealing money from his clients and argued that his law firm was entitled to recoup expenses if settlements were reached.

Avenatti became a fixture on cable news in 2018 when he represented Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit to nullify a nondisclosure agreement arranged by Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen that prevented her from discussing an alleged affair she had had with Trump 12 years earlier. Avenatti's pugilistic demeanor won him many admirers that were happy to see see him take on Trump and look for any purported malfeasance in hushing up the affair.

The attorney took his attacks on Trump too far, however, when he also sued the president for defamation on behalf of Stormy Daniels over a tweet. The claim was thrown out on First Amendment grounds and got the adult film actress stuck with a $300,000 judgment against her for Trump's legal bill defending the case. She later said Avenatti had brought the defamation claim against her wishes.

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