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, in what a top prosecutor called “an old-fashioned shakedown.”
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 bombastic attorney, who briefly flirted with running for the Democratic presidential nomination, faces two other pending federal criminal cases this spring related to alleged thefts of millions of dollars from clients, including Daniels, and other serious charges.
“I think he’s in a bit of a state of shock,” one of his defense attorneys, Danya Perry, told reporters after the verdict, which Avenatti plans to appeal.
“But he’s a fighter, as you all know, and he’s staying strong.”
Daniels posted a statement on Instagram, saying: “Sadly, it appears what Michael Avenatti did to me was just the tip of an iceberg of deceit. I am not surprised his dishonesty has been revealed on a grand scale.”
She added: “His arrogant, fraudulent and overly aggressive behavior became so pervasive that the jury found his true character. Although clearly a just result, I do feel sad for his children and foolish for believing his lies for so long.”
Avenatti, 48, was accused in the Nike case of trying to shake down the publicly traded 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 warned Nike’s attorney that the claims could “take ten billion dollars off your client’s” stock market capitalization.
Avenatti had claimed to represent amateur basketball coach Gary Franklin, who testified at trial that he was unaware of the lawyer’s tactics.
Prosecutors said Avenatti was motivated by a desperate need to get out from crushing personal 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, shortly before his arrest last March.
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
“You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem,” he said.
“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.
Avenatti, 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 on the charges of extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, and wire fraud.
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office prosecuted Avenatti, said in a prepared statement, “While the defendant may have tried to hide behind legal terms and a suit and tie, the jury clearly saw the defendant’s scheme for what it was — an old fashioned shakedown.”
Nike said in a statement, “The verdict speaks volumes. We thank the jurors for their time and service which is the bedrock of the American judicial system.”
Perry, Avenatti’s other lawyer, said, “We are obviously disappointed in the verdict, and even surprised by it.”
She said that the defense has “preserved some significant issues” on which to appeal.
Perry also said that the defense soon will file a motion seeking to change Avenatti’s conditions of detention in the special housing unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal jail in lower Manhattan.
Perry said Avenatti is being kept in “inhumane” conditions in solitary confinement.
“He’s housed like a caged animal,” she said.
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.
The book “Full Disclosure” by Stormy Daniels is seen for sale in New York, October 2, 2018.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters