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Extortion Explained: The Michael Avenatti Case

Michael Avenatti is known to the public as the charismatic lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels. More recently, Avenatti was in the news after being sentenced to 2.5 years in prison following a conviction for attempted extortion and honest services fraud. Avenatti was accused of using his representation of a client who had a sponsorship dispute with Nike to extort the company out of 25 million dollars by threatening bad publicity. 

The judge in the case painted a portrait of a rising star who used his platform and influence to enrich himself. Avenatti was accused of “weaponizing his public profile” to threaten Nike with billions of dollars of damage and falsely linking Nike to a scheme involving bribes. The company alleged that his claims did “substantial harm.” Avenatti at one point sent a tweet falsely accusing Nike of criminal involvement “at the highest levels.”

In Massachusetts, extortion is a felony and is punishable by up to 15 years in state prison, up to 2.5 years in a house of corrections or a combination of imprisonment and a fine.

Important Things to Know About Extortion:

  • Extortion does not have to be successful – For example, Michael Avenatti’s attempt to link Nike with a crime for personal gain backfired
  • Extortion does not have to involve threatening a criminal act. It can include threatening to accuse someone of a crime (e.g. the false accusations made by Avenatti), threatening to injure someone or damage their property or threatening to engage an authority like the government or police to harm someone.
  • Extortion must be attempted for personal gain, and the prosecution has to prove that was the intent and result.
  • Extortion can be similar to criminal harassment, which involves threatening someone without a specific agenda of personal gain. This crime carries lesser penalties.
  • In Massachusetts, extortion can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the seriousness of the crime and prior criminal record.

Fighting a Serious Extortion Charge

Michael Avenatti was convicted for extortion on the basis of threats that were made using his public platform on social media. Extortion is a serious crime that can easily escalate in environments like social media. If you are charged with extortion in Massachusetts it’s important to understand that there are a number of strong defense strategies that can protect you from the most serious penalties associated with extortion. At Dhar Law we have decades of experience building resilient, strategic defenses for those accused of serious crimes. If you have been accused of extortion in Boston or Massachusetts, don’t hesitate to contact us as soon as possible. 

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Heading up the firm, Vikas Dhar is widely recognized as a leader in the New England legal community. An accomplished business litigator and a “Top 40 Under 40” criminal defense attorney, he has also been honored as a New England Super Lawyer/Rising Star in the area of White-Collar Criminal Defense for each of the past six years by Boston Magazine.

I have the power and the skill to be able to save people from themselves. I can be your guide during the darkness. I can hold your hand and navigate you out of the darkness into the light.

— Vikas Dhar
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