Facing Years in Prison, the Worst Could Still Be Yet to Come for Michael Avenatti

Celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti has been found guilty on all counts against him in a case arising from his alleged shakedown of athletics apparel and sneaker giant Nike.

According to the New York Daily News, a Manhattan jury on Friday afternoon determined that the 48-year-old, high-profile lawyer who previously represented adult film actress Stormy Daniels tried to extort Nike over $20 million and that he betrayed the trust of a client with serious legal concerns against the shoe-selling empire.

That client, youth basketball coach Gary Franklin had credibly accused Nike of improperly funneling money to top-tier college basketball players in violation of NCAA rules.

Avenatti was, of course, privy to this knowledge and apparently attempted to use Franklin’s allegsations for a quick pay day on the eve of an important stockholder earnings call–dangling the prospect of dishing on Nike’s bad behavior–a move that would have likely torpedoed the company’s stock price.

“Nike bribed over 100 players as part of their scheme and purposely hid the payments from the [National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and federal] investigators,” he said in April of last year.

The pugnacious attorney was initially publicly undeterred by the charges and attempted to tweet through it.

Carlton DeBose, a Nike executive, has bribed over 100 high school players over the last [four] years to play college basketball at colleges affiliated with Nike as opposed to other schools,” Avenatti tweeted at the time. “He has used bogus invoices and countless coaches to further the scheme [and] deliver the [money].”

An order from earlier this year recounts the Southern District of New York’s (SDNY) allegations against the fast-fallen-from-grace defendant:

In a March 20, 2019 telephone call with Nike’s counsel, Avenatti reiterated that he expected to “get a million five for [Franklin]” and to be “hired to handle the internal investigation,” for which he demanded a “multimillion dollar retainer” in exchange for not holding a press conference. According to Avenatti, “3 or 5 or 7 million dollars” would not be sufficient for his retainer. Unless Nike agreed to a larger retainer, Avenatti would hold a press conference that would “take ten billion dollars off [Nike’s] market cap” Avenatti also stated that “he expected to be paid more than $9 million.” At end of the call, Avenatti agreed to meet with Nike’s lawyers the next day.

The SDNY further alleged that Avenatti demanded payments in excess of $23 million in return for a promise that he would cancel a planned press conference calling out the company over those allegedly untoward practices. Legal wrangling between the prosecution and defense raged on for months but the trial itself was quick–lasting just over two weeks. And, in a stunning defeat for the brilliant publicist and once-star-ascendant attorney, all of his famous emotion was kept in the till.

New York Daily News reporter Stephen Brown noted: “He stared straight ahead and showed no reaction as [the] verdict was read.”

And, according to one legal mind, the hits are likely to keep on coming.

“[T]he other criminal charges against Avenatti appear to be much stronger than the New York case,” CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti tweeted.

Los Angeles prosecutors have also accused Avenatti of lying during bankruptcy proceedings, failing to pay his taxes and myriad other financial crimes.

On the Manhattan-based charges alone, Avenatti faces an extremely unlikely combined 42 years in prison. At a minimum, he’s facing years in prison and it’s not yet clear how the California case will shake out.

[image via Spencer Platt/Getty Images]

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