A legal battle ensued after John Leonard mailed in a check worth around $700,000 to redeem points to get a fighter jet, as promised in Pepsi’s advertisement. The then college student thus turned to Michael Avenatti, a media-savvy attorney who was just making a name for himself. Netflix’s ‘Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?’ focuses on this fascinating case, which has actually become an important brief in law schools as well. So now, if you’re curious to find out more about Michael, in particular, we’ve got you covered.
Who is Michael Avenatti?
Although Michael Avenatti was born in Sacramento, California, he grew up in Utah and Colorado before his family eventually settled in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1982. Later on, while he was studying at the University of Pennsylvania, his father, unfortunately, lost his job, driving the young man to pay his tuition himself. He hence worked for Rahm Emanuel, who later served as the Chief of Staff during the Obama administration. At the time, Michael conducted political research on Democrats and Republicans.
Michael then went to law school at George Washington University in Washington DC, taking classes only at night and working as a law clerk during the day. Jonathan Turley, one of his professors, said, “He is an adrenaline junkie. I think he needs that adrenaline rush. He lives his life aggressively. In both litigation and in life, he shows a certain aggressive style.” It thus comes as no surprise that he was involved in many high-profile cases throughout his actual career, most of which ended with settlements.
In 2017, Michael won a $454 million verdict in a case against Kimberly-Clark and Halyard Health. The companies were accused of knowingly selling faulty surgical gowns. However, he is perhaps most known for representing the adult film actress and director Stormy Daniels. She claimed to have received $130,000 in hush money from former President Donald Trump before the 2016 elections.
Stormy once alleged that Trump had an affair with her back in 2006. While the former President denied these assertions, he reimbursed his lawyer for the money. Moreover, the lawyer himself said he took out a loan to pay Stormy the $130,000. Michael was hence a constant presence on TV during the case, appearing over 100 times on CNN and MSNBC in two months in 2018. The dispute between Stormy and Trump was centered around what was mentioned in the non-disclosure agreement she signed.
Michael is no stranger to controversy either. He represented multiple women who accused Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. But one woman walked back on her claims, stating it was the attorney who twisted her words and that she had only “skimmed” the signed declaration he later released. In November 2015, he was also accused of domestic violence, but he vehemently denied the accusations. At that time, he received support from his two ex-wives, Christine Carlin and Lisa Storie.
Where is Michael Avenatti Today?
Ultimately, though, in February 2020, Michael was found guilty of extortion, the transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, and wire fraud. The authorities believed that, in a case against Nike, he threatened to go public with supposed evidence that the company bribed amateur basketball players and their families. In exchange for him not doing so, he asked to be paid up to $25 million. The motive was considered to be his debt of $11 million. In the end, Michael was sentenced to serve two and a half years in federal prison.
Then, in February 2022, Michael was found guilty of fraud and aggravated identity theft. An investigation revealed that when Stormy had signed a book deal to publish her memoir, he stole a portion of her advance, amounting to around $300,000. He’d done so by pretending to act as her attorney in the matter and asking the agent to send the money to his account. Michael then used the funds for personal and business expenses.
In June 2022, Michael, then 51, was sentenced to serve an additional 48 months in federal prison, with 18 of them running concurrently with his previous sentence. In another case in California, he admitted to stealing millions that belonged to his clients and then lying to them. Then, the same month as his sentence, he even pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud and one count of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service. The prosecution asked that Michael receive a 17.5-year sentence, but it appears as of the final decision on it has not yet been made. Therefore, today, he remains incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island, in San Pedro, California, with his parole eligibility date being in 2026.
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