U.S. urges 'very substantial' prison term for Michael Avenatti over Nike extortion

FILE PHOTO: Attorney Michael Avenatti exits the United States Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York
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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The once high-flying California lawyer Michael Avenatti deserves a "very substantial" prison sentence for trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike Inc, U.S. prosecutors told a judge.

The Wednesday night recommendation came one week after Avenatti's lawyers said their client should spend no more than six months behind bars plus one year of home confinement.

U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe is scheduled to sentence Avenatti on June 30 in Manhattan.

Probation officers recommend eight years in prison for Avenatti, and prosecutors said federal guidelines recommend more than 11 years.

Lawyers for Avenatti did not immediately respond on Thursday to requests for comment.

Avenatti, 50, became famous in 2018 when he represented adult film actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against then-U.S. President Donald Trump.

He was convicted of threatening to publicly accuse Nike of secretly paying families of college basketball prospects unless it paid him and another lawyer up to $25 million for a probe and his client, youth basketball coach Gary Franklin, $1.5 million.

Jurors also convicted Avenatti of defrauding Franklin by not telling him he wouldn't settle without a probe.

Avenatti "betrayed his client and sought to enrich himself by weaponizing his public profile," prosecutors said. "This was an egregious abuse of trust."

In letters to Gardephe, Nike maintained that Avenatti's accusations were false, while Franklin said Avenatti's actions "destroyed my reputation in my community."

Avenatti's lawyers have said their client has suffered enough during his "epic fall and public shaming," including three months in a Manhattan jail and ridicule by Trump and the former president's media supporters.

They also said a recurrence was impossible because Avenatti would never again practice law.

Avenatti was convicted in February 2020.

He still faces two trials in California on charges he stole millions of dollars from clients and committed tax and bank fraud, and another trial in Manhattan for allegedly defrauding Daniels out of money from a book contract.

Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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