LOS ANGELES (CBSNewYork/AP) — U.S. prosecutors on two coasts have charged President Donald Trump critic and attorney Michael Avenatti with extortion and bank and wire fraud.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles said Avenatti was arrested Monday in New York.
Spokesman Ciaran McEvoy says the lawyer best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against Trump faces federal charges in New York and California.
In the New York case, he was accused of threatening to use his ability to get publicity to harm the sports apparel giant Nike. Avenatti Tweeted earlier Monday that he would be holding a news conference Tuesday about the Nike matter. Less than 45 minutes after the Tweet, prosecutors announced the extortion charges.
“I am highly confident that when all the evidence is laid bare in connection with these cases, when it is all known, when due process occurs, that I will be fully exonerated,” Avenatti said after leaving a New York courthouse Monday night.
In the California case, Avenatti was accused of embezzling a client’s money to pay his own expenses and debts — as well as those of his coffee business and law firm. The U.S. attorney’s office also said he defrauded a bank by using phony tax returns to obtain millions of dollars in loans.
In the New York case, Avenatti was charged with conspiracy to transmit interstate communications with intent to extort, conspiracy to commit extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort and extortion. The charges carry a potential penalty of 47 years in prison.
“When lawyers use their law licenses as weapons as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys, they are acting as criminals,” U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman said.
WEB EXTRA: Read the complaint (.pdf)
A criminal complaint said Avenatti threatened to hold a news conference on the eve of Nike’s quarterly earnings call and the start of the NCAA tournament to announce allegations of misconduct by Nike employees.
Avenatti and a co-conspirator demanded to be paid a minimum of $15 to $25 million and an additional $1.5 million for an Avenatti client to remain silent, the complaint said.
The court papers said the co-conspiracy, who was not identified in court papers, is also an attorney licensed to practice in California. It said the co-conspirator, like Avenatti, represents celebrities and public figures.
The court papers said the client is a coach of an amateur athletic union men’s basketball program in California. The complaint said the AAU program coached by the Avenatti client was sponsored by Nike for $72,000 annually.
Avenatti represented Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in a lawsuit to break a confidentiality agreement to speak about her alleged affair with Trump.
In a statement on Twitter, Daniels wrote she is “saddened but not shocked” by the charges, adding she decided “more than a month ago to terminate Michael’s services after discovering that he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)