Despite being indicted for allegedly trying to extort Nike for millions of dollars, Michael Avenatti claims to have the goods when it comes to evidence that the company paid student athletes and their families. According to a new report, however, not all of the “proof” may be legit.
According to Deadspin, Avenatti’s claim that Nike paid the mother of Duke basketball star Zion Williamson was based on a phony invoice. The source of the document reportedly told the site that it was a fake, showing text messages with Avenatti as proof. On April 5, the outspoken attorney tweeted thinly veiled accusations that Nike paid Williamson’s mother Sharonda Sampson to get her son to go to Duke. Williamson went on to become perhaps the highest-profile college basketball player this past season, and he is expected to be the top pick in June’s NBA draft.
Michael Avenatti now tweeting about Duke and Zion’s mother pic.twitter.com/GgmMiLiWO4
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 6, 2019
The person claiming to have sent the invoice to Avenatti sent a copy to Deadspin, saying it was created with Microsoft Word. They said that they sent it to Avenatti because “he falls for crap and I don’t like him.” The attorney reportedly tweeted an allegation about Williamson about an hour after getting the document. The source of the invoice said that by the following morning, however, Avenatti was on to the hoax.
“Nice try idiot,” Avenatti reportedly texted. “Next time try harder and be smarter. And fuck off btw.”
Avenatti, meanwhile, claimed that his accusation against Duke was not based on the supposedly fake invoice. “I don’t make a claim off of just one invoice, we have substantial evidence, documents and testimony,” he told Deadspin.
Law&Crime reached out to Avenatti prior to this publication. When he eventually responded, he had much stronger words about Deadspin’s reporting.
“Deadspin wrote a garbage piece based on a false claim by some nutcase and now you are repeating it,” he said. He then emailed a second time, saying, “I never received anything from this nutcase. They fabricated an exchange via text message and duped deadspin and now you.”
Duke athletic director Kevin White said after the allegation, “We are aware of the allegation and, as we would with any compliance matter, are looking into it. Duke is fully committed to compliance with all NCAA rules and regulations.” His statement continued, “Every student athlete at Duke is reviewed to ensure their eligibility. With regard to men’s basketball: all recruits and their families are thoroughly vetted by Duke in collaboration with the NCAA through the Eligibility Center’s amateurism certification process.”
Avenatti’s claim about Williamson came after he made similar accusations about Nike regarding basketball players DeAndre Ayton and Bol Bol. There is no evidence that those accusations were based on hoaxes.
Avenatti is facing federal charges for allegedly threatening to go public with allegations that Nike employees paid students and their families if the company did not pay $1.5 million to his client, who coached star high school players. Avenatti also allegedly demanded that Nike pay him millions to conduct an internal investigation. The indictment alleges that he timed the threat to pressure Nike right before their quarterly earnings call and the NCAA basketball tournament. Avenatti denies wrongdoing.
In a statement responding to allegations, Nike said, “Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion and aid in his disgraceful attempts to distract from the athletes on the court at the height of the tournament. Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”
Note: This article has been updated to include responses from Michael Avenatti.
[Image via Ethan Miller/Getty Images]