California lawyer Michael Avenatti, who made his name as a fierce critic of President Donald Trump, was charged by federal prosecutors on both coasts, accused in New York of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike Inc. and in Los Angeles of embezzling money from a client and defrauding a bank.
The charges, which Avenatti has denied, depict a lawyer desperate for cash and willing to exploit his own clients. In California, prosecutors say, he stole a client’s $1.6 million settlement and used it to cover expenses. In New York, he’s accused of telling Nike he’d cancel a press conference accusing the company of making illegal payoffs to promising basketball players. In exchange, he demanded $1.5 million for an unidentified client, and as much as $25 million for him and another attorney to conduct an internal investigation.
Instead, Nike went to prosecutors. Within a week, Avenatti, 48, was arrested -- nabbed on Monday as he was arriving for a meeting at the New York offices of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, according to a person familiar with the matter. The firm was representing Nike, and its lawyers wore wires to secretly record their conversations with Avenatti, the person said.
“I’ll go take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap. But I’m not f---ing around,” Avenatti told Nike’s attorneys in a March 20 phone call secretly recorded by the FBI, according to a complaint unsealed Monday.
At 12:16 p.m. on Monday, just minutes before his arrest, Avenatti posted a tweet saying he would hold a press conference Tuesday to disclose a “major high school/college basketball scandal” perpetrated by Nike that he claimed to have uncovered. “This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball,” Avenatti said in the tweet.