Michael Avenatti—the California attorney who briefly became a media star and Democratic presidential hopeful in 2018 when he represented adult film star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against Donald Trump—is currently on house arrest in a one-bedroom Venice Beach apartment as he awaits the start of his two-and-a-half year prison sentence on federal fraud convictions, pending appeal. But where he’s going isn’t likely to be as bad as where he’s been: solitary confinement in the darkest recesses of Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he spent 74 days in a high-security cell once occupied by El Chapo, and one level above Jeffrey Epstein’s final accommodations.
Avenatti claims that Bill Barr, Donald Trump’s loyalist Attorney General, personally sent him there. In an exclusive statement to Los Angeles magazine, Avenatti said: “10 South consists of six cells designed to hold the most dangerous individuals on the planet and is widely considered worse than Guantanamo Bay. It was built in response to 9/11 and the UN has described the conditions as torture. And they are. You can’t even be placed there absent an order from the Attorney General. Trump and Barr targeted me and did everything in their power to break me.”
Avenatti, who was found guilty in 2020 of attempting to extort up to $25 million from Nike and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, tells Politico’s Ruby Cramer that his eight-by-20-foot cell in the MCC’s infamous 10 South security level was like being “In a cocoon almost, like a self-created protective cocoon.”
10 South is the “secure housing unit” primarily reserved for criminals under “special administrative measures,” or SAMs, to prevent witness intimidation or in cases involving national security threats. SAMs detainees are given severely limited contact with the outside world, but Avenatti’s lawyers believe that the Federal Bureau of Prisons never even placed him on special administrative measures.
Avenatti’s 10 South neighbors, he learned, included three suspected terrorists and a CIA officer accused of treason.
Andrew Dalack, one of Avenatti’s federal public defenders, who has represented several 10 South clients, tells Politico, “I’m not personally familiar with any case in which a person was put on 10 South for a substantial period of time without SAMs or a high-risk security concern related to their communication.”
Soon after his arrival, Avenatti says, he asked the guards if he could have a book. They gave him a copy of Trump’s The Art of the Deal.
According to Avenatti’s account, a senior corrections official took him away from three guards on his return from court one day in February and into an MCC vestibule, where he asked Avenatti, “You know why you’re here, right?”
The officer informed Avenatti that he was in 10 South at the direction of Attorney General Bill Barr, and that he should have his lawyers “look into it.”
Dalack tells Politico that Avenatt was banished to 10 South because the government was “pursuing this as aggressively as they could.”
At Avenatti’s sentencing hearing in the Nike case, Judge Paul G. Gardephe cited the “horrific conditions” in 10 South as a reason for imposing a sentence of just 30 months. “It’s hard to believe they could occur in the United States of America,” Gardephe said.
Marti Licon-Vitale, the MCC warden at the time, claims that Avenatti was placed in 10 South out of “serious concerns” for his safety in general population, while Bureau of Prisons rep Donald Murphy said the department does not comment on “anecdotal allegations” but that inmates are held outside general population “as necessary” for safety reasons.
Aside from his appeal in the Nike case, Avenatti is also denying federal charges leveled against him in New York that he tried to rip off Stormy Daniels for some of her book money , as well as similar federal allegations of misappropriating clients’ money brought against him in Los Angeles. The California case ended in a mistrial when Avenatti successfully argued that prosecutors had withheld exculpatory evidence.
“I don’t know of anyone else,” he says, “who went from a potential presidential candidate, who I would argue was the greatest threat to Donald Trump—again, my truth, and I will always believe that and I think if some people were honest, they would agree—to El Chapo’s cell… I don’t quite see how it all comes together yet.”
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