Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who gained fame by representing porn star Stormy Daniels against President Trump, has been convicted of trying to extort Nike for $25million.
The 48-year-old lawyer was convicted by a jury in New York on Friday after a three-week trial in which he was accused of threatening to use his media access to hurt Nike’s reputation and stock price unless they paid him up to $25 million.
He was charged in March after Nike accused him of threatening to expose allegations the company was funneling payments to college basketball players.
Avenatti, who denied the allegations, was convicted on Friday on all three counts: Attempted extortion, honest services wire fraud and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort.
He could face up to 42 years in prison when he is sentenced on June 17.
Avenatti glared at the jurors as the verdict was delivered but said nothing.
Afterward, he shook hands with his lawyers and told them ‘great job’ before he was led back to the cell where he has been held since a judge found he had violated his bail conditions.
‘Of course there will be an appeal, yes,’ Avenatti’s lawyer Scott Srebnick told reporters after the verdict.
Attorney Michael Avenatti leaving court on October 8, 2019. He was convicted on
THE CHARGES AGAINST AVENATTI
The Nike case
Avenatti was charged last March with three counts; extortion, honest services fraud and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort.
He tried to get Nike to pay him $25million and, in exchange, said he would not expose them for alleged payments to college basketball players – something that is banned.
Nike reported him to the authorities instead.
He is facing up to 42 years in prison.
The Stormy Daniels Case
In the second case to be filed against him in New York, Avenatti is charged with identity theft and wire fraud.
He allegedly forged Stormy Daniels’ signature to steal $300,000 in payments from her book.
He represented Daniels in her fight against Donald Trump and Michael Cohen during the 2016 presidential election when they gave her hush money to keep her allegations that she’d slept with Trump quiet.
If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.
That case will go to trial in April.
The IRS and Justice Department Case
The most serious indictment was filed in California.
It charges Avenatti with 36 counts of tax fraud, among other crimes. If convicted, he faces 335 years behind bars in that case.
That will go to trial in May.
The Nike extortion trial is just one of three that Avenatti is currently the defendant in.
He has also been charged with 36 counts of fraud in a sweeping indictment by the IRS and the Justice Department in California. That case – which carries a maximum sentence of 335 years – has not yet begun.
In the third case, he is accused of stealing $300,000 from Stormy Daniels and faces 20 years if convicted. He represented her in a lawsuit seeking to break a confidentiality agreement so she could speak about her alleged affair with Trump before he ran for president.
Avenatti became a cable news fixture in 2018 and 2019 as journalists courted him for information about Daniels and her claims of a tryst with Trump.
At his peak of notoriety, Avenatti used Twitter and TV appearances to relentlessly criticize Trump and even considered running for president himself.
His fall, however, was swift.
He was arrested as he was about to meet Nike lawyers last March to press his demands for millions of dollars to conduct an internal probe of the apparel maker.
Avenatti had approached Nike claiming to have proof that it had been paying players illegally and threatening to expose the company for it if they did not pay him up to $25million.
After the charges were revealed, Nike said it had been cooperating with an already-ongoing NCAA investigation into the issue of college basketball payments for more than a year.
‘Nike firmly believes in ethical and fair play, both on business and sports, and will continue to assist prosecutors,’ the company said.
At the time, Avenatti was drowning in personal debts of $10million, according to his indictment.
He had scheduled a press conference to discuss Nike’s alleged payments to the players when he was taken into custody.
Avenatti had threatened to share the allegations, whether proven or not, the night before Nike’s quarterly earnings call to drive its stock price down.
He maintained he was taking the aggressive position at the urging of his client, Gary Franklin, who ran a youth basketball league in Los Angeles and was angry that Nike ended a decadelong sponsorship that provided $72,000 annually and free gear.
He had sought $1.5 million for Franklin as well.
Avenatti was also convicted of defrauding Franklin by not telling him he was demanding a probe before agreeing to settle.
In a separate case, Avenatti is accused of stealing $300,000 from ex-client Stormy Daniels. He represented her in a lawsuit seeking to break a confidentiality agreement so she could speak about her alleged affair with Trump before he ran for president
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman is pictured in a court sketch pointing at Avenatti during his trial in New York
Avenatti’s trial included multiple recordings of his negotiations with Nike’s lawyers.
Franklin also testified for prosecutors that he did not want a probe or press conference. He told jurors that two Nike executives forced him to pay money to the mother of an elite high school basketball player and to pass along payments to the handlers of other players while doctoring paperwork to hide the purpose of the funds.
Avenatti did not testify after his trial judge said prosecutors could question him about his dealings with other clients, without mentioning the criminal charges.
His lawyers, however, said he was following the wishes of Franklin and an entertainment executive who advised him to be aggressive to force Nike to fire corrupt executives and fix its culture.
Following his release on bond last March, Avenatti took to Twitter and followed through with his threat to expose Nike.
In a series of tweets, the lawyer named both DeAndre Ayton and Bol Bol as examples of players who had allegedly received improper funds from Nike.
Ayton played a single season at the University of Arizona before becoming the first pick in the 2018 draft, while Bol Bol is the son of the late 7ft 7in NBA great Manute Bol, who died in 2010.
Avenatti claimed Bol Bol ‘and his handlers’ took ‘large sums’ to play for The University of Oregon, which is a Nike sponsored school.
Avenatti claimed he had proof that Nike was paying players illegally to sign with certain schools when they were in high school.
In exchange for his silence, Avenatti allegedly demanded that his client get a $1.5million payment and that he be brought on to investigate these claims – and be paid between $15 to $25million.
There would also be a provision in that contract stating Avenatti would be paid double the price of any other law firm brought on to work at the company.
Avenatti was last seen out in public in Los Angeles on January 11. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles then succeeded last month in getting him locked up for violating his bail conditions
Following his release on bond last March, Avenatti took to Twitter and followed through with his threat to expose Nike. In a series of tweets, the lawyer named both DeAndre Ayton (right) and Bol Bol (left) as examples of players who had allegedly received improper funds from Nike
Michael Avenatti had tweeted back in March last year that he was innocent and ‘anxious for people to see what really happened’
In a series of tweets, the lawyer named both DeAndre Ayton and Bol Bol as examples of players who had allegedly received improper funds from Nike
ACCUSATIONS OF BRIBING COLLEGE BASKETBALL RECRUITS
By Alex Raskin, Sports News Editor for MailOnline.com
A federal jury in New York has convicted celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti of trying to extort as much as $25 million from Nike by blackmailing the apparel company with threats that he would expose improper bribes made to college basketball recruits.
If true, the alleged bribes would constitute NCAA violations that could lead to potential legal problems for Nike as well as other involved parties – but the claims have never been proven.
In March, Avenatti alleged on Twitter that Nike had bribed current NBA players Deandre Ayton and Bol Bol during their high school days in an effort to persuade them to attend colleges sponsored by the apparel company. (Bol Bol is the son of deceased former NBA player Manute Bol)
Ayton and Bol attended Nike schools Arizona and Oregon, respectively.
Later Avenatti claimed the mother of Duke star Zion Williamson was also paid by Nike for ‘bogus consulting services’ so that he would sign with the Blue Devils, another team with ties to the apparel giant. Williamson became the top pick in June’s NBA Draft and is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans.
College basketball recruiting circles have come under scrutiny since late 2017, when the Justice Department announced its joint investigation with the FBI into allegations of bribery among apparel companies and coaches, as well as recruits and their families.
The college basketball probe resulted in charges for 10 individuals, including Adidas executive James Gatto and former Indiana Pacers star, Chuck Person, who had been serving as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Auburn.
In a call to Avenatti on March 19, Nike’s lawyer managed to buy two more days to mull over the offer, at which point the US Attorney’s Office was contacted by members of the company.
That was how agents were able to hear the March 20 call between Avenatti and Nike’s lawyers.
In that recorded call, Avenatti stated he wanted ‘a million five for our guy’ and to be ‘hired to handle the internal investigation’.
He then informed the lawyers for Nike that if they were not willing to do these things ‘we’re done here’.
Avenatti later launched into an expletive-filled rant, according to the complaint.
‘I’m not f***ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,’ declared Avenatti, according to court documents.
‘[Y]ou guys know enough to know you’ve got a serious problem, and it’s worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing. I’m just being really frank with you.’
He later continued: ‘I’m not f***ing around with this thing anymore. So if you guys think that you know, we’re gonna negotiate a million five, and you’re gonna hire us to do an internal investigation, but it’s going to be capped at 3 or 5 or 7 million dollars, like let’s just be done… and I’ll go and I’ll go take 10 billion dollars off your client’s market cap.’
Avenatti also informed the lawyers that an internal investigation for a company like Nike could cost upwards of $100million, presenting himself as a relative bargain by requesting a tenth of that and saying he would agree to any deal that paid more than $9million.
Besides the extortion trial, Avenatti will face trial in New York in April on charges that he defrauded Daniels of book proceeds.
He will then go on trial in Los Angeles in May in the Justice Department and IRS case where he is accused of defrauding clients and others of millions of dollars.
He remains held without bail. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles succeeded last month in getting him locked up after saying he violated his $300,000 bail by moving money around illegally after his arrest.