NEW YORK — Michael Avenatti just did it — he tried to extort Nike, a jury ruled Friday.
The jury found the bulldog lawyer guilty of betraying his client and attempting to shake down the shoe giant.
The verdict virtually assures Avenatti’s downfall, but he has not yet hit rock bottom. He faces two more trials, one in Manhattan and another in Los Angeles.
The trial in Manhattan Federal Court revealed that Avenatti, facing nearly $11 million in debt, tried to take advantage of an elite youth basketball coach’s legal claims against Nike. The coach, Gary Franklin, said Nike execs had ordered him to make secret cash payments to the families of prominent players — a violation of NCAA rules and potentially a federal crime.
Franklin hired Avenatti to represent him — and then the lawyer went rogue. Franklin testified he wanted to get paid, clean up the corruption at Nike and then reestablish a relationship with the company that had sponsored his well-known youth basketball team, the California Supreme.
Avenatti, best known for representing porn star Stormy Daniels in her case against President Donald Trump, instead launched scorched-earth negotiations in March 2019 that prompted Nike attorneys to contact the feds.Avenatti demanded more than $20 million from Nike. He said the company should hire him and another prominent attorney representing Franklin, Mark Geragos, to conduct an internal investigation.
“What I thought I was engaging in was a stickup,” Nike attorney Scott Wilson testified.
“I thought this was a crazy thing to be saying to me. We were in ‘The Twilight Zone.’”
Avenatti became a near-constant presence on 24-hour TV news by representing Daniels in legal battles with Trump and his former fixer, Michael Cohen. He even toyed with running for president. But last year his reputation was destroyed. In addition to the Nike charges, Manhattan federal prosecutors accused him of swindling Daniels out of nearly $300,000 for a book deal. He’s charged in Los Angeles with cheating his clients, lying in bankruptcy proceedings, failing to pay taxes and other financial crimes.