The high-profile extortion trial of Michael Avenatti is nearing its conclusion, leaving federal prosecutors and the defense at odds. Prosecutors allege that the celebrity lawyer had a clear «agenda» to extort Nike Inc by threatening to expose corruption, while the defense contends that Avenatti was simply advocating aggressively for his client.
Avenatti faced charges of threatening to hold a press conference to reveal alleged payments made by Nike to the families of college basketball recruits. He demanded a substantial sum, ranging from $15 million (£11.58 million) to $25 million for an internal investigation, in addition to $1.5 million for his client.
Furthermore, Avenatti was accused of defrauding his client, Gary Franklin, the coach of California Supreme, formerly associated with a Nike-sponsored basketball league. Avenatti testified that he did not seek an investigation but preferred a quieter settlement, in which Nike would terminate those responsible for the payments.
Michael Avenatti, aged 48, gained prominence by representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against Donald Trump and earned a reputation as a self-described «nemesis» of the U.S. president, frequently appearing on television.
In his closing argument in Manhattan federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky alleged that Avenatti sought to extort Nike in March as a means to escape «a mountain of debt.» He argued that an investigation made little sense for Franklin, who aimed to mend his relationship with the company.
Podolsky played a recording in which Avenatti mentioned that a settlement of several million dollars would not be satisfactory. He emphasized that Avenatti had his own undisclosed agenda, ultimately betraying the trust of his client.
The defense team countered by asserting that Franklin had «authorized» Avenatti to demand an investigation. They pointed to emails and text messages exchanged between Franklin and his adviser, Jeffrey Auerbach, which indicated their lack of interest in diplomacy. They argued that they had enlisted Avenatti for his assertive and unrelenting approach to uncover Nike’s alleged corruption.
Howard Srebnick, the brother of one of Avenatti’s lawyers, told jurors that Avenatti was present to «just do it» for his client, employing Nike’s own phrase.
Both Franklin and Auerbach testified for the prosecution during the trial. Jury deliberations for this two-week trial could commence as early as Wednesday.
Avenatti also faces impending trials in Manhattan, where he stands accused of defrauding Stormy Daniels of book contract proceeds, and in California, where he faces charges of defrauding several other clients.
Notably, Avenatti opted not to testify in the Nike case, following U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe’s ruling that prosecutors could question him about his conduct toward Daniels and other clients without reference to the criminal charges.