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

(CNN) — The discredited lawyer Michael Avenatti received a sentence of 14 years in prison on Monday and an order to pay nearly $11 million in restitution for embezzling millions of dollars from four of his clients and for obstruction.

Avenatti pleaded guilty earlier this year to four counts of wire fraud for each customer he robbed and one count of attempting 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.

Sentencing by US District Judge James Selna will begin after Avenatti completes a five-year prison term he is currently serving after being convicted in two other 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 crooked lawyer who said he was fighting for the little guys. In fact, he was only looking out for his own selfish interests,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a post-sentencing statement. “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 forfeited his right to practice law in California and will now serve a well-deserved prison sentence.”

Dean Steward, Avenatti’s attorney, said in a statement to CNN that the sentence “was too harsh and unnecessary.” And he added that her client described her in court as “off the charts.”

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

Monday’s sentencing marks the latest episode in an extraordinary years-long legal drama that has surrounded Avenatti, whose portrayal of Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who alleged she had an affair with former President Donald Trump years before she He ran for office, made the pugnacious lawyer a household name.

“Avenatti’s fraud was egregious and the court clearly intended to send a strong message. But a 14-year sentence is extraordinarily long given all the circumstances,” said Elie Honig, a CNN 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 of 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 remaining 31 fraud charges Avenatti faced, after he agreed to plead guilty to a 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-related charges because the judge might consider those charges when he finally sentences Avenatti.

In pleading guilty earlier this year, Avenatti admitted to stealing millions of dollars from clients, including $4 million from a severely disabled client. According to the indictment, after Avenatti negotiated deals for clients that required payment to go to them, he lied to the clients about the terms of the deals, instead depositing the funds into attorney trust accounts he controlled. He would then embezzle and embezzle those funds, according to the indictment, and to avoid discovery of his scheme, he would tell clients that the settlement proceeds had not yet been paid, among other tactics.

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