On February 14, 2020, a federal jury found celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti guilty of fraud and extortion over a scheme where he attempted to force Nike to pay him $25 million to conduct an internal probe in exchange for not publicly reporting Nike’s alleged scheme to make illicit payments to the families of high school athletes.
As we have continued to cover, on March 25, 2019, Avenatti was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, bank fraud, and wire fraud. According to the federal criminal complaint, Avenatti and a co-conspirator threatened to hold a press conference to expose Nike’s alleged youth basketball scheme. Since the acquisitions first surfaced, Avenatti maintained his innocence, vehemently denied the accusations, and, on numerous occasions, claimed that it was Nike, not himself, that was in the wrong.
During closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky repeatedly played recorded demands and threats Avenatti made at his meeting with Nike attorneys, telling the jury, “This is what extortion sounds like.” Apparently, the jurors agreed, and after three days of deliberations, the jury convicted Avenatti of extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, and honest services wire fraud.
Avenatti is currently behind bars following his arrest last month after being accused of violating his pretrial release conditions in a second case where he is accused of embezzling client funds. He also faces a third criminal case, in New York, where is accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his former client, Stormy Daniels.
Avenatti faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.