Sunday 21 April 2019

Stormy's lawyer charged with €22m extortion bid against Nike

Michael Avenatti: 'An ugly picture of lawless conduct and greed.' Photo: REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert
Michael Avenatti: 'An ugly picture of lawless conduct and greed.' Photo: REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

Brian Melley

Michael Avenatti, the pugnacious attorney best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, has been arrested for allegedly trying to shake down Nike for as much as $25m (€22m) by threatening to expose the company to bad publicity.

Mr Avenatti, who was also accused of embezzling a client's money to pay his expenses, was charged with extortion and bank and wire fraud in separate cases in New York and California.

He was arrested in New York minutes after tweeting he planned to hold a news conference today to "disclose a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated by @Nike that we have uncovered".

"When lawyers use their law licences as weapons, as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys. They are acting as criminals," said Geoffrey S Berman, the US attorney in New York, accusing Mr Avenatti of engaging in "a shakedown."

The allegations "paint an ugly picture of lawless conduct and greed", said Nick Hanna, the US attorney in Los Angeles.

In the California case, Mr Avenatti allegedly misused a client's money to pay his debts and those of his coffee business and law firm.

Federal prosecutors said he also defrauded a bank by using phony tax returns to obtain millions of dollars in loans.

Mr Avenatti allegedly threatened to hold a news conference last week on the eve of Nike's quarterly earnings call and the start of the NCAA tournament to announce allegations of misconduct by Nike employees.

The attorney and a co-conspirator demanded to be paid $15m (€13.25m) to $25m and an additional $1.5m (€1.32m) for an Avenatti client to remain silent, the complaint said.

He rose to national prominence by representing Ms Daniels in a lawsuit to break a confidentiality agreement to speak about her alleged affair with Mr Trump.

She said she was "saddened but not shocked" by the arrest.

She tweeted she fired Mr Avenatti a month ago after "discovering he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly".

Irish Independent

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