UPDATED: 7:45 p.m. ET, July 8, 2021
Originally published March 8, 2019
Michael Avenatti, the disgraced lawyer who was convicted for trying to extort Nike out of millions of dollars and still faces similar, separate charges for trying to do the same thing to one of his own clients, porn star Stormy Daniels, was effectively given a slap on the wrist when he was sentenced on Thursday for his admitted crimes.
A judge openly said he was showing mercy to Avenatti by only sentencing him to two-and-a-half years in what will most likely be a minimum-security, white-collar prison. It was the polar opposite type of prison sentence — and correctional facilities — that Black people convicted of lesser crimes are rarely if ever assigned.
Washington Post reporter Devlin Barrett live-tweeted about the sentencing hearing and reported that U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe described Avenatti’s crimes in the worst of terms, suggesting the lawyer could be given 9-11 years behind bars as federal guidelines recommend.
“Mr. Avenatti’s conduct was outrageous. He hijacked his clients’ claims and he used those claims to further his own agenda which was to extort millions of dollars from Nike for himself,” Gardephe said in court before adding: “Mr. Avenatti had become drunk on the power of his platform or what he perceived the power of his platform to be. He had become someone who operated as if the laws and rules which apply to everyone else didn’t apply to him.”
But Gardephe lamented on the bench that Avenatti’s fellow celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos did not get criminally charged. Geragos is equally guilty of extorting Nike, Gardephe suggested. And because Geragos was not charged, Gardephe reasoned, Avenatti, who was reportedly weeping at his sentencing, should not face the harshest punishment.
Geragos “suffered no consequences as a result of his conduct and he was a central figure in the criminal conduct,” Gardephe said, adding later: “It would not be justice for Mr. Avenatti to be sentenced to a 9 to 11 year term of imprisonment when Mr. Geragos was not even charged.”
Imagine getting that kind of a prison sentence for a felony and not even snitching!
It was reminiscent of Paul Manafort‘s punishment for mortgage fraud, conspiracy and other counts that put the political operative above the country he was charged with serving. Donald Trump’s crony and former presidential campaign chairman only got just seven-and-a-half years in prison despite federal guidelines calling for a 24-year sentence. His conviction stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In December, Trump pardoned Manafort, but not before he had the privilege of being released early from federal prison to home confinement in May because of COVID-19 concerns.
The Washington Post published a report in 2017 detailing how Black men are sentenced to more prison time for the same crime that white people commit. According to NPR, “the average sentence is nearly 20 percent longer for black men than white men.”
And the disparity doesn’t only exist among men, as shown with the case of Crystal Mason, a Black woman in Texas who got a five-year prison sentence for the offense of voting in an election.
Similar to with Avenatti, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, a white man, expressed some sympathy for Manafort, a Republican operative and consultant who has political roots in the highest levels of politics including working for the presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.
“He’s lived an otherwise blameless life,” Ellis said of Manafort’s offenses, adding that he’s “earned the admiration of a number of people.”
All of which leads us to highlight the following examples of Black people who got harsher sentences for doing less than the Avenattie the extortionist.
1. Former Trenton Mayor Tony Mack
In May 2014, Mack received a 58 months’ prison sentence for extortion and bribery. He was released from prison in May of 2018.
2. Former Detroit Mayor Kwame KilpatrickSource:Getty
In March of 2013, Kwame Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 federal felony counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud and racketeering. In October of 2013, Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.
3. Former New Orleans Mayor Ray NaginSource:Getty
In 2014, Ray Nagin was convicted on 20 of 21 charges of wire fraud, bribery, and money laundering. He is currently serving ten years in federal prison. The earliest he can be released is May 2023.
4. Former U.S. Rep. William JeffersonSource:Getty
Former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson was charged with 16 counts including bribery and racketeering and sentenced to 13 years in prison, the longest sentence ever given to a congressman at the time. He spent five and a half of his 13 years in prison after being released on appeal and then accepting a plea deal.
Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) delivers a statement to reporters in Washington DC, May 22, 2006. Rep. William Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, accepted $100,000 in cash the FBI said was intended as a bribe for a Nigerian official and later found $90,000 of the money hidden in his freezer. (Photo by Chuck Kennedy/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) photography,arts culture and entertainment,horizontal,usa,politics,washington dc,journalist,politics and government
5. Alice Marie JohnsonSource:Getty
In 1996, Alice Marie Johnson was convicted for her involvement in a Memphis cocaine-trafficking organization. She was sentenced to life imprisonment for the nonviolent crime. In June 2018, after serving 21 years in prison, President Donald Trump commuted her sentence.
6. Stephanie George
Stephanie George was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug crime. In 2013, her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama. After being in jail since 1996, she was released in April of 2014.
7. Donel ClarkSource:Getty
In 1994, when Clark was 29, he was sentenced to 30 years for a non-violent drug offense — it was his first offense. At the age of 50, he was released in 2015 after President Obama commuted his sentence. See the powerful video above.
8. Clarence Aaron
Clarence Aaron was a first-time offender for a non-violent crime. He was denied clemency by President Bush but granted a commutation by President Obama in December 2013. He was in prison for more than 15 years.