Michael Avenatti, the combative lawyer who gained fame by representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against Donald Trump, was convicted Friday of trying to extort the sportswear giant Nike.
The verdict was returned 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 $25m.
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, said he would appeal the conviction but otherwise declined to comment.
The brash lawyer was all but unknown until two years ago when he began representing Daniels in lawsuits against the US president and making hundreds of television appearances.
Avenatti’s sentencing was scheduled for 17 June.
Jurors deliberated for two and a half days in deciding whether Avenatti tried to extort Nike by threatening to publicize allegations the sports apparel company made illegal payments to families of college basketball recruits. Nike has denied wrongdoing.
The jury agreed with prosecutors who argued that Avenatti misused a client’s information “in an effort to extort tens of millions of dollars” from Nike, the US attorney Geoffrey S Berman said in a written statement.
“While the defendant may have tried to hide behind legal terms and a suit and tie, the jury clearly saw the defendant’s scheme for what it was: an old-fashioned shakedown,” he said.
Prosecutors said Avenatti, 48, threatened Nike with a press conference to publicize the payments and take several billion dollars off its market value, unless it paid him and another lawyer up to $25m to conduct an internal investigation, and paid the coach $1.5m.
Avenatti, who prosecutors said wanted a big payday to help cover at least $11m of debts, was also charged with defrauding his client Gary Franklin by not telling him he was demanding an investigation before agreeing to settle.
Franklin testified he did not want an investigation or press conference, preferring a quiet settlement.
He acknowledged having hired Avenatti after seeing him rise to prominence while representing Daniels.
Avenatti’s lawyers argued their client had acted in good faith and did exactly what Franklin wanted in demanding an investigation and threatening publicity that could expose Nike’s alleged corruption, and harm its reputation and stock price.
Avenatti also faces scheduled trials this spring in Manhattan for allegedly defrauding Daniels out of proceeds from a book contract, and in California for allegedly defrauding several other clients and lying to the Internal Revenue Service.
Avenatti did not testify in the Nike case, after his judge said prosecutors could question him about his dealings with other clients, without mentioning the criminal charges.