Fallen celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti filed a $94 million claim alleging that he suffered brutal treatment in jail on orders that “came from the Attorney General,” referring to former President Donald Trump’s then top prosecutor Bill Barr.
Spending about 94 days in solitary confinement or under locked-down status inside drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s former jail cell, Avenatti claims, he was given only a copy of Trump’s ghostwritten memoir “Art of the Deal” to keep him company.
“He was housed alongside four accused terrorists and a former CIA employee accused of treason; the United States Attorney General had directed these individuals to be held in 10 South under ‘special administrative measures,’ typically reserved for people who pose threats to national security,” Avenatti’s claim states. “There was no plausible security reason for housing [Avenatti] in 10 South. He had never been convicted of any crime, had no history of violence and was not informed of any threat made against him by other inmates. Rather, [Avenatti]’s confinement to 10 South was retaliation for [Avenatti]’s criticism of President Trump and other federal government employees, including the Attorney General.”
Trump and Barr are named as “witnesses” in his filing known as a Form 95, which is a first step toward a possible lawsuit against the government.
Avenatti filed it on Wednesday with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Justice Department, and the Executive Office of the President. He characterizes his solitary confinement in the infamous 10 South unit of the now-shuttered Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan as payback for stinging criticisms of the Trump administration.
During his stint in the hole, Avenatti says, he was subjected to “frigid temperatures,” restricted from speaking to family, friends, and other prisoners, and only saw the sun one time.
Avenatti wants hefty compensation for the “pain and suffering, severe mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation, indignities and embarrassment, degradation, damage to reputation, and loss of natural psychological development” he allegedly suffered while an inmate at MCC.
The jailhouse shut down after the death of Jeffrey Epstein put a harsh glare on the facility’s long record of security breaches and reports of inmate mistreatment.
Avenatti says the trouble began after a federal judge in California revoked his bond ahead after he was slapped with three indictments from coast to coast, accusing him of a slew of financial crimes. The judge ordered him to remain in federal detention in New York, where he was then scheduled to stand trial for allegedly trying to extort Nike for more than $20 million. He was later found guilty and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.
That sentence fell below the recommended guidelines, in part, because U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe gave Avenatti a break for his brutal pre-trial stint in 10 South. A former United Nations special monitor on torture and punishment previously described 10 South’s conditions as “a punitive measure that is unworthy of the United States as a civilized democracy.”
Avenatti claims that he was only sent to 10 South as “retaliation” for his “criticism of President Trump and other federal government employees, including the Attorney General.”
According to Avenatti, an MCC employee outright told him his treatment was the result of a direct order from Barr.
“On one occasion in approximately February 2020, a senior-level MCC employee escorted [Avenatti] from a legal visit to his cell,” the claim states. “The employee, a tall, stocky African-American man, paused in a breezeway, where the two were alone, and asked Claimant if he understood why he was being housed in 10 South. The employee explained that the orders came from the Attorney General.”
In a statement emailed to Law&Crime Avenatti said he is “not done fighting” Trump.
“A federal district court judge has found that I was held under terrible conditions and that it was hard to believe it could occur in the United States of America,” the statement said. “I agree and look forward to holding Trump and Barr accountable for what they did to me in the interest of politics and revenge.”
Avenatti’s attorneys, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma and Daniel McGuinness, did not immediately respond to messages from Law&Crime seeking comment.
Neither did representatives for Trump or the Justice Department.
Read the full filing below.
[Images via Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images, Ethan Miller/Getty Images]
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