Michael Avenatti asked a judge Wednesday if he could be temporarily removed from federal jail, arguing that he is at heightened risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.
In a letter to a California judge, Avenatti lawyer H. Dean Steward asked that his client be released temporarily on $300,000 bail to his California home, with ankle monitoring and restrictions on access to funds.
“There is a pandemic that poses a direct risk to Mr. Avenatti that is far greater if he continues to be detained during this public health crisis,” wrote Steward.
Avenatti is currently being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York as he awaits sentencing following a trial where he was accused of attempting to extort millions from athletic giant Nike Inc. The embattled attorney, who rose to fame representing the adult film star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, was arrested in March 2019 — 15 minutes after tweeting his plans to reveal a basketball bribery scandal related to the March Madness tournament. Prosecutors argued that Avenatti plotted to siphon millions of dollars from the Swoosh by threatening to disclose evidence of misconduct on the part of Nike executives, ahead of the company’s third-quarter report. The celebrity lawyer was found guilty on three counts related to his alleged extortion attempt and could face up to 40 years in prison at his June sentencing; he also is expected to be disbarred.
In the letter this week, Steward said that his client has a weakened lung condition after contracting pneumonia six months ago and is thus more vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Additionally, Steward said that Avenatti’s cellmate was recently removed from the cell after experiencing flulike symptoms. He argued that the prison is “unable” to handle cases of the coronavirus.
“MCC New York has proven — recently and repeatedly — that it is unable to protect the health and safety of defendants in their custody,” Steward wrote. “To date, the MCC has not met even the most basic recommendations of the CDC for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.”
Federal prosecutors oppose the terms of the request and do not want Avenatti released, Steward wrote. In addition to being convicted for his purported attempt to extort Nike, Avenatti faces two other trials. He will go to court in New York next month over claims he stole $300,000 from Daniels after helping her secure a book deal. In Southern California this May, Avenatti will go to trial over claims he embezzled millions from clients, lied to the Internal Revenue Service and conned a bank.
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