Michael Avenatti just did it — he tried to extort Nike, a jury ruled Friday.
The jury found the bulldog lawyer guilty of betraying his client and attempting to shake down the shoe giant.
The verdict virtually assures Avenatti’s downfall, but he has not yet hit rock bottom. He faces two more trials, one in Manhattan and another in Los Angeles.
The California lawyer, 48, stared straight ahead and showed no reaction as the verdict was read. He stood at attention as jurors left the courtroom, appearing to steel himself.
“Good job,” he said to members of his defense team, who vowed an appeal. He faces a maximum sentence of 42 years in prison for two counts of extortion and one count of honest services fraud.
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“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,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.
The trial in Manhattan Federal Court revealed that Avenatti, facing nearly $11 million in debt, tried to take advantage of an elite youth basketball coach’s legal claims against Nike. The coach, Gary Franklin, said Nike execs had ordered him to make secret cash payments to the families of prominent players — a violation of NCAA rules and potentially a federal crime.
Franklin hired Avenatti to represent him — and then the lawyer went rogue. Franklin testified he wanted to get paid, clean up the corruption at Nike and then reestablish a relationship with the company that had sponsored his well-known youth basketball team, the California Supreme.
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Avenatti, best known for representing porn star Stormy Daniels, instead launched scorched-earth negotiations in March 2019 that prompted Nike attorneys to contact the feds.
“I’m not f—ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games. And I don’t — you know, this isn’t complicated. You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem,” Avenatti 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. I’m just being really frank with you … I’ll go take $10 billion off your client’s market cap. But I’m not f—ing around.”
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Avenatti demanded more than $20 million from Nike while keeping his client in the dark, testimony revealed. He said the company should hire him and another prominent attorney representing Franklin, Mark Geragos, to conduct an internal investigation.
“What I thought I was engaging in was a stickup,” Nike attorney Scott Wilson testified during the Manhattan trial.