Attorney Michael Avenatti, convicted in February for extorting Nike by threatening to reveal wrongdoing in its elite high school basketball division, may be getting a temporary reprieve from incarceration due to the coronavirus.
He won’t, however, be back tweeting criticism and insults at President Donald Trump, one of his favorite pastimes.
United States District Judge James Selna ruled Saturday that Avenatti should be temporarily released from a federal detention center in New York for 90 days.
Avenatti’s attorneys had argued that due to a recent case of pneumonia, he was particularly susceptible to getting COVID-19 in unsanitary prison conditions and was a non-violent offender who had yet to be sentenced for his crime.
There are conditions. He must spend 14 days quarantined in a federal facility and then test negative for the virus. He must wear an electronic monitoring device, shelter in place at a friend’s home in Los Angeles, not open any bank accounts or credit cards and document all financial transactions.
He is also prohibited from using the internet, including, presumably, his active Twitter account where he often blasted Trump.
ABC News reported that a required $1 million bond was posted by Hubert Bromma, who wrote the book, “How to Invest in Offshore Real Estate and Pay Little or No Taxes.”
Avenatti represented adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleges she was paid $130,000 to not reveal an affair with then-candidate Trump in the fall of 2016. In the aftermath, Avenatti became a vocal and frequent critic of Trump on cable news shows and social media. He even floated the possibility of becoming a 2020 presidential candidate himself. He started a political action committee, which critics contend was used mostly as a personal slush fund.
Instead he was convicted of extortion, wire fraud and other crimes out of the Southern District of New York after representing a former Nike AAU basketball coach.
The verdict and Avenatti’s incarceration have been a source of numerous mocking tweets from Trump and his supporters, who celebrated the decision.
Avenatti had sought $1.5 million from Nike for the coach and as much as a $20 million fee for himself and another attorney to conduct an internal investigation for the shoe giant about alleged criminal and unethical conduct inside its Elite Youth Basketball division.
The alleged conduct by Nike employees and summer basketball coaches, which included paying money to then-high school stars and their families to play for Nike, was similar to that which caused an Adidas executive and consultant to be convicted on federal fraud charges in the fall of 2018.
Avenatti argued he was being an aggressive lawyer, and that the offer to run the investigation was an honest work proposal. A jury in Manhattan disagreed and sided with prosecutors, who called Avenatti’s actions an attempted shakedown.
He faces up to 47 years in prison for the conviction.
Avenatti, 49, is still facing two additional federal trials that were scheduled this year for allegedly stealing funds from clients, including $300,000 from Daniels. One is out of New York, the other California.
In total, he faces up to 330 years if convicted on all counts, although any actual sentence would likely be far less and would probably not confine him to a life behind bars.
Avenatti had been locked up since mid-January, when Judge Selna revoked his pretrial bond under the suspicion he was engaging in “criminal conduct” by trying to hide money from creditors.
Avenatti had previously complained to the court that he was being unfairly held in solitary confinement at the MCC-Manhattan, a level of security inconsistent with a non-violent bond violation.
His cell, which was under 24-hour-a-day surveillance and, according to his lawyers, was kept at a temperature in the 40s, had previously housed notorious Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. The facility had housed numerous-high profile criminals and was the location where convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died in 2019.
The level of security, Avenatti argued at the time, limited his ability to prepare and participate in his defense. He was not moved then, but in February, weeks after the conviction, Avenatti was granted a transfer to general population.
Now he may get a brief reprieve to house arrest in California. First he has to hope he hasn’t already been infected with the virus and can get through the quarantine with a clean bill of health.
“If the defendant is found to be exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or is confirmed to have COVID-19, the defendant shall not be released to the public because of the danger the defendant poses to the community,” Judge Selna wrote in the release order.
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