Sunday 21 April 2019

Stormy Daniels lawyer Avenatti charged with trying to extort millions from Nike

The 48-year-old was charged with extortion and bank and wire fraud in separate cases in New York and California.

Michael Avenatti (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Michael Avenatti (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Brian Melley and Larry Neumeister

High-profile US lawyer Michael Avenatti has been arrested on charges that he tried to extort millions of dollars from Nike and embezzled a client’s money to pay his own expenses.

The 48-year-old is best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump.

Avenatti was charged with extortion and bank and wire fraud in separate cases in New York and California. He was arrested in New York.

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

Avenatti describes himself on Twitter as an attorney and advocate, but the accusations describe “a corrupt lawyer who instead fights for his own selfish interests”.

In New York, US attorney Geoffrey S Berman said Avenatti engaged in “a shakedown”.

“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,” Mr Berman said.

The New York case accuses Avenatti of threatening to use his ability to get publicity to harm Nike.

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Donald Trump (Susan Walsh/AP)

In the California case, he 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 fake tax returns to obtain millions of dollars in loans.

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 basketball tournament to announce allegations of misconduct by Nike employees.

The lawyer and a co-conspirator demanded to be paid 15 million to 25 million dollars and an additional 1.5 million dollars for an Avenatti client to remain silent, the complaint said.

Shortly before the charges came to light, Avenatti tweeted that he planned to hold another news conference regarding Nike on Tuesday morning. Less than 45 minutes later, prosecutors announced the extortion case.

The co-conspirator, who was not identified, is also a lawyer licensed to practice in California who represents celebrities and public figures, court papers said.

The Avenatti client is a coach of an amateur athletic union men’s basketball programme in California, according to the papers.

The AAU programme coached by the client was sponsored by Nike for 72,000 dollars annually, the complaint said.

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Stormy Daniels Markus Schreiber/AP)

Avenatti rose to national prominence by representing Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in a lawsuit to break a confidentiality agreement to speak about her alleged affair with Mr Trump.

He has also made headlines in recent weeks as the lawyer representing two women who have accused R&B star R Kelly of sexual abuse.

Daniels said she was “saddened but not shocked” to learn of Avenatti’s arrest.

Press Association

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