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Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti found guilty in Nike extortion trial

Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti was convicted Friday by a jury of all three charges related to his efforts to extort up to $25 million from athletic apparel giant Nike.

The verdict in U.S. District Court in Manhattan came two years after Avenatti gained widespread notoriety for his representation of porn star Stormy Daniels in her legal disputes with President Donald Trump.

The lawyer, who had briefly flirted with running for president, faces two other pending federal criminal cases this spring related to alleged thefts from clients, including Daniels, and other charges.

Avenatti, 48, was accused in the Nike case of trying to shake down the company by threatening to go public with alleged evidence that the company had bribed amateur basketball players and their families unless Nike paid him millions of dollars. Avenatti was claiming to represent amateur basketball coach Gary Franklin, who testified at trial that he was unaware of the lawyer’s tactics.

Prosecutors said Avenatti’s audacious bid was spurred by a desperate need to get out from crushing debt of more than $11 million.

“I’m not f—ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti told Nike’s lawyers last year, shortly before his arrest.

“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. A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me.”

Avenatti’s lawyer Howard Srebnick argued to jurors that Avenatti was behaving to Nike’s lawyer “exactly” how “the clients wanted.”

“He acted in good faith,” Srebnick said in his closing argument. “In the words of Nike itself, he went in there to ‘Just Do It,’ for his client.”

Jurors began deliberating in the case on Wednesday, after nearly three weeks of testimony and evidence.

Celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti walks out of a New York court house after a hearing in a case where he is accused of stealing $300,000 from a former client, adult-film actress Stormy Daniels on July 23, 2019 in New York City.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

The bombastic attorney, who was ordered jailed last month without bail for alleged violations of his release bond, faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison, although he is likely to get far less time than that. 

He is scheduled to be sentenced June 17

In his next scheduled trial, also in Manhattan federal court, Avenatti is charged with swindling Daniels out of $300,000 in proceeds for a book she wrote.

In his other pending case, in California, Avenatti is accused defrauding other clients out of millions of dollars, tax crimes and perjury.

Daniels was paid $130,000 by Trump’s then-personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen on the eve of the 2016 presidential election to keep her quiet about her claims of having had sex with Trump years earlier.

Trump has denied Daniels’ allegations, but reimbursed Cohen for the hush money.

Source: CNBC

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