Michael Avenatti, the celebrity lawyer who rose to national fame representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in her case against President Donald Trump and who was at one time a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, has been arrested for allegedly trying to extort more than $20 million from Nike, the athletic apparel company.
Federal prosecutors said Avenatti “devised a scheme to extort a company ... by threatening to damage the company’s reputation if the company did not agree to make multi-million dollar payments to Avenatti” and his client, a former Amateur Athletic Union basketball coach, threatening to hold a press conference revealing “allegations of misconduct by employees of Nike,” the night before Nike’s quarterly earnings call last week and the start of the NCAA basketball championships.
Federal prosecutors also announced unrelated wire and bank fraud charges against Avenatti, for allegedly embezzling from a client to pay off his own debts.
According to the criminal complaint in the Nike case, Avenatti and his unnamed client allegedly threatened the company’s lawyers over the phone last week: “I’ll go take $10 billion dollars off your client’s market cap. I’m not fucking around,” Avenatti said.
“And I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti added, according to the complaint. “You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem and it’s worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing.”
On Monday, Avenatti himself tweeted that he would be holding a press conference this week uncovering a “basketball scandal” involving Nike. The athletic wear company has been accused of paying college basketball recruits with the goal of directing them to specific schools on multiple occasions, possibly what Avenatti was hinting at.
Tmrw at 11 am ET, we will be holding a press conference 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.— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) March 25, 2019
For the past two years, Avenatti’s client list and brash and controversial lawyering style has made him a central figure in the United States’ most powerful circles. Most notably, he represents Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, who alleged she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about it ahead of the 2016 election. Cohen has testified that Trump directed him to make the payments.
The celebrity lawyer has repeatedly involved himself in major news events: He represented a woman who claimed to have witnessed Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assault girls in high school and that Kavanaugh was at a party at which she was gang raped. The FBI did not consider Avenatti’s client to be credible and did not investigate her allegations.
Going head-to-head with Trump even prompted Avenatti to float a Democratic presidential bid last year. The braggadocious lawyer ultimately decided against it in December 2018, after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse against an ex-girlfriend in Los Angeles. He’s denied the claim, and the LA city attorney’s office declined to prosecute the case.
Now, his latest run in with law enforcement will be over allegedly conspiring to extort millions from Nike.