August 24, 2019

Porn Lawyer Michael Avenatti Arrested for Extorting Nike for $20M

Michael Avenatti, porn star Stormy Daniels’ former lawyer who briefly considered a bid for president, was charged Monday for allegedly trying to extort Nike for $15-$25 million, officials at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York said. He was also charged in a separate case out of California for wire fraud and bank fraud.

Avenatti, who Fox News confirmed was taken into custody Monday, allegedly tried to extort the massive sports apparel company “by threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met,” prosecutors alleged.

The counts against him include conspiracy to transmit interstate communications with intent to extort, conspiracy to commit extortion and more. Avenatti is expected to answer to the charges later Monday.

At a press conference Monday, Geoffrey S. Berman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that Avenatti used illegal tactics and threats in an effort to obtain millions of dollars for himself. He claimed that if Nike did not meet his demands “the company might die.” The scheme played out in less than a week.

According to the New York complaint against him, Avenatti and an unidentified co-conspirator met with attorneys for Nike on March 19 and “threatened to release damaging information” if the company did not agree to make multi-million dollar payments to them, as well as an additional $1.5 million payment to a client Avenatti claimed to represent.

He allegedly told the attorneys that if his demands were not met, he would “go take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap … I’m not f***ing around.”

The complaint said Avenatti threatened to hold a news conference on the eve of Nike’s quarterly earnings call and the start of the NCAA tournament to announce allegations of misconduct by Nike employees.

The co-conspirator was identified as an attorney licensed to practice in the state of California, and is “similarly known for representation of celebrity and public figure clients.” Meanwhile, the alleged client was identified as a coach for an amateur athletic union men’s basketball program based in California.

Earlier Monday, Avenatti tweeted he would be holding a press conference Tuesday to “disclose a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated by @Nike that we have uncovered. This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball.”

Meanwhile, at a second press conference in California, federal authorities announced additional criminal charges against the lawyer for a separate matter. In that case, Avenatti was accused of embezzling a client’s money to pay his own expenses and debts — as well as those of his coffee business and law firm.

United States Attorney Nick Hanna said Avenatti was charged with wire fraud and tax fraud stemming from a two-year IRS tax investigation after he allegedly obtained bank loans on false terms by using phony tax returns to obtain millions of dollars in loans.

“[Avenatti] is a corrupt lawyer who instead fights for his own selfish interest,” Hanna said, adding that the allegations against the attorney “paint an ugly picture of lawlessness and greed.”

Avenatti became famous as the lawyer for Daniels, the porn actress who alleged she had an affair with President Trump. In the last year, the duo became household names in their fight against Trump, dominating cable news shows for months and taunting the president in interviews.

Daniels released a statement Monday saying she was not “shocked” by the charges against Avenatti.

“Knowing what I know now about Michael Avenatti, I am saddened but not shocked by news reports that he has been criminally charged today,” Daniels said. “I made the decision more than a month ago to terminate Michael’s services after discovering that he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly and there will be more announcements to come.”

Before Avenatti began representing Daniels in February 2018, he was virtually unknown outside of the California legal community. But in a matter of months, he had become known as a no-holds-barred lawyer with a media style — and a penchant for tweeting — similar to Trump’s.

Avenatti had toyed with a 2020 presidential run as a Democrat — he even visited Iowa at one point — but ultimately ruled that out. He also was involved in another high profile case, representing dozens of parents whose children were separated from them at the U.S. border as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. More recently, he’s been representing women who said they were sexually abused by R&B star R. Kelly.

In the California case, Avenatti faces up to 50 years in prison, while in the New York case, the charges carry a potential penalty of 47 years in prison. Hanna said they coordinated with prosecutors in New York to execute both arrest warrants at the same time, but emphasized that they were two separate cases that happened to coincide.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter & Editor for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang


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