Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who represented porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against US President Donald Trump, has been convicted of trying to extort sportswear giant Nike.
The verdict was returned by a Manhattan federal jury after it deliberated over charges of attempted extortion and honest services fraud in what prosecutors say was an attempt by Avenatti to extort up to 25 million US dollars from Nike with threats to otherwise harm it.
The charges carry a combined potential penalty of 42 years in prison.
Avenatti, 48, became prominent during frequent television appearances in 2018 and 2019 as journalists courted him for information about Ms Daniels and her claims of a tryst with Mr Trump before he became president and a pay-off to remain silent about it. At his peak of notoriety, Avenatti even considered running for president himself.
Many of his appearances occurred while he was representing Ms Daniels and after the arrest of Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to lying to Congress and campaign finance violations in connection with hush payments to Ms Daniels and another woman who claimed an affair with Mr Trump.
After Avenatti’s conviction, Donald Trump Jr said in a tweet: “I look forward to Michael’s witty twitter retorts to the jury that just found him guilty in all counts. Though I’m told he is still doing well amongst the Democrat primary contenders.”
The president’s son also sent a tweet with snippets of some of Avanatti’s television appearances and suggested the media loved Avenatti.
But Avenatti was arrested as he was about to meet Nike lawyers last March to press his demands for millions of dollars to conduct an internal probe of the firm.
Avenatti maintained he was taking the aggressive position at the urging of his client, Gary Franklin, who ran a youth basketball league in Los Angeles and was angry that Nike ended a decade-long sponsorship that provided 72,000 dollars annually and free equipment. He sought 1.5 million dollars for Franklin, as well.
Franklin told the court that two Nike executives forced him to pay money to the mother of an elite high school basketball player and to pass along payments to the handlers of other players while doctoring paperwork to hide the purpose of the funds.
Avenatti did not give evidence, but his lawyers said he was following the wishes of Franklin and an entertainment executive who advised him to be aggressive to force Nike to fire corrupt executives and fix its culture.
Besides the extortion trial, Avenatti also faces an April trial in New York on charges that he defrauded Ms Daniels of book proceeds and a May trial in Los Angeles on charges that he defrauded clients and others of millions of dollars.
He remains held without bail. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles succeeded last month in getting him locked up after saying he violated his 300,000 dollar bail by moving money around illegally after his arrest.