Attorney Michael Avenatti, who rose to fame representing adult-film actress Storm Daniels in her litigation against former President Donald Trump, was sentenced in Orange County Monday to 14 years in federal prison for tax and wire fraud. U.S. District Judge James Selna said Avenatti’s sentence will run consecutively — or on top of — the five years he is already serving for convictions in New York for an extortion scheme against Nike, and for stealing from Daniels. He made an “open plea” to resolve most of the charges against him in Santa Ana, meaning he had no guarantee what punishment prosecutors would seek. It is a rare move for defendants because they have no idea what punishment they may face.
Avenatti, who won a mistrial motion last year when Selna found prosecutors had withheld evidence the attorney was seeking to use in his trial, said he made the open plea to spare the five victims another trial, the court system the expense, and because he could not reach an agreement on a plea deal with prosecutors. In the sentencing recommendation, federal prosecutors said Avenatti’s schemes followed a “general pattern” in which he “would lie about the true terms of the settlement agreement he had negotiated for the client, conceal the settlement payments that the counterparty had made, secretly take and spend the settlement proceeds that belonged to the client, and lull the client into not complaining or investigating further by providing small `advances’ on the supposedly yet-to-be-paid funds.” Prosecutors also said he was a “tax cheat,” and cited his failure to pay payroll taxes after his firm acquired Tully’s Coffee in bankruptcy and then obstructed the IRS when the agency attempted to collect the amount due. Prosecutors argue Avenatti stole $12.35 million from his clients, failed to pay about $3.2 million in payroll taxes from the coffee company, and $1.6 million in payroll taxes from his law firm.