Lawyer convicted of $37m Nike extortion

 

DISGRACED lawyer Michael Avenatti was convicted on all counts Friday of attempting to shake down Nike for as much as AU$37.3m over claims it illegally funnelled payments to college basketball players.

Avenatti - who gained fame representing porn star Stormy Daniels in failed lawsuits against President Trump - now faces up to 42 years behind bars when sentenced in Manhattan federal court June 17.

The former hotshot lawyer glared straight ahead as the verdict against him was announced in Manhattan federal court. He stood stiffly, hands behind his back, with a look of determination - and a slight smile.

But he then appeared deflated as he was led out of court. Still, Avenatti hugged his lawyers just before leaving, saying, "Great job."

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California lawyer Michael Avenatti faces up to 42 years in prison
California lawyer Michael Avenatti faces up to 42 years in prison

Jurors found the lawyer guilty of attempted extortion, honest-services fraud and the related use of interstate communications.

"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," Manhattan US lawyer Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.

A Nike rep added, "The verdict speaks volumes. We thank the jurors for their time and service, which is the bedrock of the American judicial system."

While Avenatti faces more than 40 years under federal sentencing guidelines, the amount of prison time he gets will be decided solely at the discretion of the judge.

Avenatti was led back to jail to await his sentencing, as well as an April 21 trial in the same courthouse for allegedly stealing nearly $446,000 from Daniels tied to the 2018 publication of her best-selling memoir, "Full Disclosure."

Avenatti, 48, also faces a third federal trial in California, where he is accused of ripping off five other clients - one of whom is a paraplegic - as well as scamming bank loans, evading taxes and lying during bankruptcy proceedings.

Prosecutors said Avenatti's one-man crime wave was prompted by lavish spending on luxuries - including a $17.8 million oceanfront home in Laguna Beach, California, a $7.4 million private jet, a Porsche and a Ferrari - that left him at least $16.4 million in debt.

Evidence in the Nike case included an audio recording of Avenatti profanely threatening to "take US$10 billion off (the company's) market cap" if he wasn't paid at least $22.3 million to conduct an internal probe of the sportswear giant.

"I'm not f***ing around with this. … A few million dollars doesn't move the needle for me," he said during one of three phone calls with a Nike lawyer in March 2019.

 

The loudmouth lawyer - who used his celebrity as a cable TV news guest to explore a presidential campaign in 2018 - repeatedly predicted that he would be "fully exonerated" of all the allegations against him and even pleaded "100 per cent not guilty!" during his arraignment in the Nike case.

But Avenatti declined to testify in his own defence after Judge Paul Gardephe ruled that he could be cross-examined about his "desperate financial condition" and accusations of "lies and deceit" unrelated to the criminal charges against him.

Avenatti had been free on $446,000 bond until last month, when a California judge ordered him locked up over allegations he received $1.49 million in legal fees after his March 2019 arrest but hid the income from his second ex-wife, tax authorities and other creditors.

Avenatti was attending a hearing to suspend his California law license when he was busted for allegedly violating terms of his release.

Defence lawyer Howard Srebnick argued at trial that Avenatti "acted in good faith" on behalf of a client during his interactions with Nike.

"Of course there will be an appeal," Srebnick said outside court after the verdict.

Avenatti's legal team later added in a statement, "Michael Avenatti has been a fighter his entire life.

"The inhumane conditions of solitary confinement he has endured over the past month would break anyone. but he remains strong.

"We are all obviously deeply disappointed by the jury's verdict. We believe there are substantial legal grounds for the appeal that he plans to pursue."

This article was originally published in New York Post and republished with permission

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