By LARRY NEUMEISTER
NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Avenatti, the combative lawyer who gained fame by representing a porn star in lawsuits involving President Donald Trump, was convicted Friday of trying to extort sportswear giant Nike.
The verdict was returned Friday by a federal jury in Manhattan following a three-week trial in which prosecutors said Avenatti threatened to use his media access to hurt Nike’s reputation and stock price unless the company paid him up to $25 million.
The convictions for attempted extortion and honest services fraud carry a combined potential penalty of 42 years in prison.
Avenatti glared at the jurors as the verdict was being announced but said nothing.
Afterward, he shook hands with his lawyers and told them “great job,” before he was led back to the cell where he has been held since a judge found he had violated his bail conditions.
His lawyer, Scott Srebnick, declined to comment but said he would appeal the conviction. A judge set sentencing for June.
Avenatti, 48, became a cable news fixture in 2018 and 2019 as journalists courted him for information about porn star Stormy Daniels and her claims of a Trump tryst before he became president, and a payoff to remain silent about it. At his peak of notoriety, Avenatti used Twitter and TV appearances to relentlessly criticize Trump and even considered running for president himself.
But Avenatti’s fall was swift. He was arrested as he was about to meet Nike lawyers last March to press his demands for millions of dollars to conduct an internal probe of the Beaverton, Oregon-based apparel maker.
Avenatti maintained he was taking the aggressive position at the urging of his client, Gary Franklin, who ran a youth basketball league in Los Angeles and was angry that Nike ended a decadelong sponsorship that provided $72,000 annually and free gear. He sought $1.5 million for Franklin, as well.
Franklin testified that two Nike executives forced him to pay money to the mother of an elite high school basketball player and to pass along payments to the handlers of other players while doctoring paperwork to hide the purpose of the funds.
Avenatti did not testify, but his lawyers said he was following the wishes of Franklin and an entertainment executive who advised him to be aggressive to force Nike to fire corrupt executives and fix its culture.
Besides the extortion trial, Avenatti also faces an April trial in New York on charges that he defrauded Daniels of book proceeds and a May trial in Los Angeles on charges that he defrauded clients and others of millions of dollars.
He remains held without bail. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles succeeded last month in getting him locked up after saying he violated his $300,000 bail by moving money around illegally after his arrest.
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