In the much-watched trial of Michael Avenatti, a federal prosecutor claims that Avenatti’s relentless greed was the driving force behind his demand for millions from Nike, casting a spotlight on the extortion charges faced by the celebrity lawyer and outspoken critic of President Donald Trump.
However, Avenatti’s defense team offers a different perspective, contending that his actions were part of legitimate negotiations aimed at representing his client, Gary Franklin, a basketball coach associated with a Nike-sponsored youth basketball league. Howard Srebnick, Avenatti’s attorney, argues that Avenatti should not be held criminally liable for his tenacity.
«While Mr. Avenatti may be seen as brash and aggressive, that alone is not a crime,» acknowledged Srebnick as he addressed the six-man, six-woman jury in Manhattan federal court.
Avenatti stands accused of threatening to expose allegations made by his client against Nike, alleging illegal payments to the families of college basketball recruits. Reportedly, Avenatti demanded a substantial sum of $15 million to $25 million for himself and celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos to conduct an internal investigation for Nike. Additionally, he sought $1.5 million for his client, Gary Franklin.
Prosecutors also allege that Avenatti defrauded Franklin by concealing a settlement offer from Nike, a move aimed at securing potential financial gains for himself.
Nike vehemently denies any wrongdoing in this matter. The trial is expected to extend over approximately 2-1/2 weeks, with Avenatti facing the prospect of more than 40 years in prison if convicted.
Michael Avenatti gained widespread recognition for representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump. The prosecution and defense made reference to these high-profile cases during their opening arguments.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman asserted that Avenatti capitalized on his fame to «shake down» Nike and enrich himself, partially due to his financial struggles and those of his law firm.
Sobelman informed jurors that they would hear recordings made at Nike’s request, capturing Avenatti’s demands.
«Why did the defendant do what he did? Simple. Money,» Sobelman declared.
Srebnick, on the other hand, contended that Avenatti was advocating for «a client seeking justice» by uncovering corruption within youth basketball and securing the services of a prominent lawyer to shed light on the situation.
Avenatti closely observed the proceedings, frequently focusing on Srebnick’s statements. The trial marks the start of a series of legal battles for Avenatti, including separate trials in Manhattan for alleged defrauding of Stormy Daniels and other clients in California.
Following his arrest on January 14 for an alleged bail violation in the California case, Avenatti had his bail revoked and is currently appealing this decision.