MANHATTAN (CN) — The first of three criminal trials for celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti has ended with a New York jury convicting him of extorting Nike for millions of dollars at the threat of exposing a corruption scandal.
The verdict — guilty on all counts — came two days after the jury began its deliberations.
Earlier this morning, they asked to listen to a tape that prosecutors described as the picture of extortion.
“I’ll go take $10 billion off your client’s market cap,” Avenatti warned attorneys for Nike in the videotape.
Avenatti betrayed no emotion as the jury read out three guilty counts.
The parties had little dispute over the facts on trial: In bare-knuckle negotiations, Avenatti threatened to hold a press conference and contact The New York Times unless Nike forked over more than $1.5 million — and hired him and co-counsel Mark Geragos to conduct an internal investigation for a retainer between $15 million and $25 million.
“It’s worth more in exposure for me to just blow the lid on this thing,” Avenatti told attorneys for the multinational corporation on tape. “A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle with me.”
Avenatti for his part has insisted since his March 2019 arrest that the misconduct he planned to expose was real, and that powerful forces — both in the government and in corporate America — joined up to crush him for it. His former client Gary Franklin, an amateur basketball couch, testified against him, telling a jury that Avenatti left him in the dark about the fateful negotiations.
During closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky called Avenatti’s claims about Nike a distraction, arguing that truth is no defense for extortion.
“Michael Avenatti, facing a mountain of debts, saw a light at the end of the tunnel,” Podolsky told the jury. “He saw a meal ticket named Gary Franklin.”
The Southern District of New York as not been shy about going after sportswear giants. Prosecutors in that district previously convicted three executives from Adidas, and that prosecution later spun off into a grand jury investigation into Nike, probing possible offenses like bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. The Securities and Exchange Commission continues its separate investigation.
Apart from the Nike case, Avenatti’s time in the gauntlet continues with separate prosecutions in New York and California.
An unrelated fraud case here accuses him of trying to cheat his most famous client, adult film actress Stormy Daniels, out of a publishing advance on a book deal. The Los Angeles-based attorney also faces a prosecution near his home for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from his clients, lying on income tax returns and deceiving investigators during bankruptcy proceedings.
This story is developing …
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