Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti was convicted Friday by a jury of all three charges related to his efforts to extort up to $25 million from athletic apparel giant Nike, in what a top prosecutor called “and old fashioned shakedown.”
The verdict in U.S. District Court in Manhattan came two years after Avenatti gained widespread notoriety for his representation of porn star Stormy Daniels in her legal disputes with President Donald Trump.
Avenatti, who briefly flirted with running for the Democratic presidential nomination, faces two other pending federal criminal cases this spring related to alleged thefts of millions of dollars from clients, including Daniels, and serious charges.
The 48-year-old attorney was accused in the Nike case of trying to shake down the publicly traded company by threatening to go public with alleged evidence that the company had bribed amateur basketball players and their families unless Nike paid him millions of dollars.
Avenatti warned Nike’s attorney that the claims could “take ten billion dollars off your client’s” stock market capitalization.
Avenatti had claimed to represent amateur basketball coach Gary Franklin, who testified at trial that he was unaware of the lawyer’s tactics.
Prosecutors said Avenatti was motivated by a desperate need to get out from crushing personal debt of more than $11 million.
“I’m not f —-ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti told Nike’s lawyers, shortly before his arrest last March.
“You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem,” he said. “And it’s worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing. A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me.”
Avenatti’s lawyer Howard Srebnick argued to jurors that Avenatti was behaving to Nike’s lawyer “exactly” how “the clients wanted.”
“He acted in good faith,” Srebnick said in his closing argument. “In the words of Nike itself, he went in there to ‘Just Do It,’ for his client.”
Jurors began deliberating in the case on Wednesday, after nearly three weeks of testimony and evidence.
The bombastic attorney, who was ordered jailed last month without bail for alleged violations of his release bond, faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison, although he is likely to get far less time than that.
He is scheduled to be sentenced June 17 on the charges of extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, and wire fraud..
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office prosecuted Avenatti, said, in a prepared statement, “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.”
Nike said in a statement, “The verdict speaks volumes. We thank the jurors for their time and service which is the bedrock of the American judicial system.”
In his next scheduled trial, also in Manhattan federal court, Avenatti is charged with swindling Daniels out of $300,000 in proceeds for a book she wrote.
In his other pending case, in California, Avenatti is accused of defrauding other clients out of millions of dollars, tax crimes and perjury.
Daniels was paid $130,000 by Trump’s then-personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen on the eve of the 2016 presidential election to keep her quiet about her claims of having had sex with Trump years earlier.
Trump has denied Daniels’ allegations, but reimbursed Cohen for the hush money.