A federal court in New York convicted celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti on Friday on three counts of trying to extort $25 million from Nike.
“The verdict was returned Friday by a Manhattan federal jury after it deliberated charges of attempted extortion and honest services fraud in what prosecutors say was an attempt by Avenatti to extort up to $25 million from Nike with threats to otherwise harm it,” The Associated Press reported. “The charges carry a combined potential penalty of 42 years in prison.”
Avenatti, who gained notoriety by attacking President Donald Trump, was charged in March 2019 after he threatened to publicly accuse the company of illegally paying amateur athletes unless Nike paid him.
When Avenatti was charged, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “As alleged, Avenatti used illegal and extortionate threats for the purpose of obtaining millions of dollars in payments from a public company. Calling this anticipated payout a retainer or a settlement doesn’t change what it was – a shakedown. When lawyers use their law licenses as weapons, as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys. They are acting as criminals, and they will held responsible for their conduct.”
Avenatti still faces two additional criminal trials for allegedly stealing his former client Stormy Daniels’ book advance and for allegedly committing fraud in California.
The allegations of fraud in California are particularly disturbing because of who he is accused of defrauding.
The Los Angeles Times reported:
In a sweeping expansion of the criminal charges against Michael Avenatti, a federal grand jury has indicted the Los Angeles lawyer on 36 counts of fraud, perjury, failure to pay taxes, embezzlement and other financial crimes.
One of the clients, Geoffrey Ernest Johnson, was a mentally ill paraplegic on disability who won a $4-million settlement of a suit against Los Angeles County. The money was wired to Avenatti in January 2015, but he hid it from Johnson for years, according to the indictment.
In 2017, Avenatti received $2.75 million in proceeds from another client’s legal settlement, but concealed that too, the indictment says. The next day, he put $2.5 million of that money into the purchase of a private jet for Passport 420, LLC, a company he effectively owned, according to prosecutors.
The Times added that, if convicted in the California, Avenatti faces up to 335 years in prison.
In a separate statement about Avenatti allegedly stealing from Daniels, Berman said, “Michael Avenatti abused and violated the core duty of an attorney – the duty to his client. As alleged, he used his position of trust to steal an advance on the client’s book deal. As alleged, he blatantly lied to and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari. Far from zealously representing his client, Avenatti, as alleged, instead engaged in outright deception and theft, victimizing rather than advocating for his client.”
In a statement on the Daniels case, the DOJ said that Avenatti was charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison; one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory term of imprisonment of two years in addition to the sentence imposed for the wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to transmit interstate communications with intent to extort, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison; one count of transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison; and one count of extortion, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.