NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who gained fame by representing a porn star in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, was convicted Friday of trying to extort sportswear giant Nike.
The verdict was returned Friday by a Manhattan federal jury after it deliberated charges of attempted extortion and honest services fraud in what prosecutors say was an attempt by Avenatti to extort up to $25 million from Nike with threats to otherwise harm it. The charges carry a combined potential penalty of 42 years in prison. Sentencing is set for June 17.
“The verdict speaks volumes. We thank the jurors for their time and service which is the bedrock of the American judicial system,” Nike said in a statement.
“Today a unanimous jury found Michael Avenatti guilty of misusing his client’s information in an effort to extort tens of millions of dollars from the athletic apparel company Nike. While the defendant may have tried to hide behind legal terms and a suit and tie, the jury clearly saw the defendant’s scheme for what it was – an old fashioned shakedown,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.
Avenatti, 48, became prominent during frequent cable television program appearances in 2018 and 2019 as journalists courted him for information about porn star Stormy Daniels and her claims of a Trump tryst before he became president and a payoff to remain silent about it. At his peak of notoriety, Avenatti even considered running for president himself.
“Sadly, it appears what Michael Avenatti did to me was just the tip of an iceberg of deceit,” said Daniels in a statement on Friday. “I am not surprised his dishonesty has been revealed on a grand scale. His arrogant, fraudulent and overly aggressive behavior became so pervasive that the jury found his true character. Although clearly a just result, I do feel sad for his children and foolish for believing his lies for so long.”
But a steep fall from power-broker status was swift when Avenatti 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 Beaverton, Oregon-based shoemaker.
Avenatti 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 decade-long sponsorship that provided $72,000 annually and free gear. He sought $1.5 million for Franklin, as well.
Franklin testified that two Nike executives forced him to pay money to the mother of an elite high school basketball player’s mother 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, but his lawyers 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.
Besides the extortion trial, Avenatti also faces an April trial in New York on charges that he defrauded Daniels of book proceeds and a May trial in Los Angeles on charges that he defrauded 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.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)