LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — A Newport Beach attorney who gained fame by representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump has been convicted of trying to extort sportswear giant Nike.
The verdict against Michael Avenatti was returned Friday by a federal jury in Manhattan. It followed a three-week trial in which prosecutors claimed Avenatti made threats to use his media access to hurt Nike’s reputation and stock price unless the apparel company paid him up to $25 million.
Avenatti did not testify, but his lawyers said he was following the wishes of an amateur youth basketball league director who wanted him to force Nike to fire corrupt executives and fix its culture.
Prosecutors argued Avenatti was over $15 million in debt when he tried to extort up to $25 million from Nike, while Avenatti’s lawyers said the money he legally requested to conduct an internal probe of the sportswear giant was a bargain.
For Avenatti, it is only the completion of the first of three scheduled trials in the next five months. He has denied all charges.
Criminal charges against him in other cases include allegations in New York that he defrauded ex-client porn star Stormy Daniels out of proceeds of a book deal and charges in Los Angeles that he defrauded clients of millions of dollars.
Avenatti told The Associated Press that “any claim that I was $15 million in debt is ridiculous, absurd and laughable.”
“I look forward to the upcoming trial at which time I will be exonerated and the truth will be known,” he said at the time.
On March 25, Avenatti was arrested in two separate federal cases out of Santa Ana and New York. The Santa Ana case alleges that he stole more than $12 million in settlement money from five of his clients, including Johnson, failed to file income tax returns, failed to pay millions in taxes, submitted fraudulent loan applications and concealing assets from bankruptcy court.
The New York case alleges that Avenatti attempting to extort more than $20 million from athletic equipment giant Nike over claims he had evidence that Nike employees funneled illegal payments to top high school basketball prospects and their families.
In April, a Santa Ana federal grand jury brought 36 counts of embezzlement, bank fraud and theft against Avenatti, with one of those counts alleging that the 48-year-old Century City attorney had stolen $4 million from Geoffrey Johnson, a paraplegic man with mental health issues.
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