NEW YORK (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.
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.
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.