Prosecutors Drop Two Charges Against Avenatti, Add Another

Michael Avenatti speaks outside court in New York on Dec. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

MANHATTAN (CN) – A superseding indictment unsealed against celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti charges him with attempting to extort tens of millions of dollars from Nike but drops conspiracy charges in the case.

“I am extremely pleased that the two counts alleging I engaged in a conspiracy against Nike have just been dismissed by Trump’s DOJ,” Avenatti, a prolific tweeter and public haranguer of the president, wrote on Twitter Wednesday, the day the new charging document was unsealed. “I expect to be fully exonerated when it is all said and done.”

The new three-count indictment drops the conspiracy charges in connection with Avenatti’s alleged attempt to extort Nike out of more than $20 million, but the grand jury added a count of wire fraud. The original indictment in the Southern District of New York was filed in March and Avenatti pleaded not guilty.

According to Wednesday’s indictment, in March Avenatti threatened to hold a press conference just before Nike’s quarterly earnings call and make public allegations of misconduct by Nike employees, unless the company forked over a $1.5 million payment to an unnamed Avenatti client and agreed to retain Avenatti and an unnamed second attorney as its lawyers to conduct an “internal investigation.” He demanded a retainer fee of between $15 and $25 million, according to the superseding indictment.

The client was identified after the first indictment as Gary Franklin, who coached Deandre Ayton on his amateur league team California Supreme before the Phoenix Suns made Ayton the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick after one season at the University of Arizona.

Failing that, Avenatti allegedly demanded, Nike could pay out $22.5 million to resolve a claim by that unnamed client, who had not consented to any of this, the indictment says.

On a taped conference call with Nike’s outside counsel the day after his initial threat, Avenatti allegedly repeated that “he expected to ‘get a million five for our guy’ and be ‘hired to handle the internal investigation,’ adding, ‘if you don’t wanna do that, we’re done,’” according to the new charges.

“I’m not fucking around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti allegedly said on the call. “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.”

Avenatti has also been indicted in California on federal charges accusing him of stealing millions of dollars from his clients, lying on income tax returns and deceiving investigators during bankruptcy proceedings. He has pleaded not guilty.

The lawyer is perhaps best known for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump, in which she claimed the nondisclosure agreement she’d signed about their alleged affair was invalid. Avenatti has since forayed into the accusations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and into the NXIVM sex cult case in Brooklyn, briefly representing Seagram’s Liquor heiress Clare Bronfman.

His case in Manhattan is set to go to trial in January.

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