Avenatti says he did nothing wrongful in Nike extortion case

By Jonathan Stempel
FILE PHOTO: Attorney Michael Avenatti arrives at United States Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Michael Avenatti, the lawyer and critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, on Monday said he did nothing "wrongful" in dealing with Nike Inc, and asked a federal judge to dismiss the criminal extortion case against him.

Avenatti, 48, made his request in Manhattan federal court five days after saying the government's case should also be dismissed because it was a "vindictive and selective prosecution" stemming from his "feud" with Trump.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, whose office is prosecuting Avenatti, declined to comment. Lawyers for Avenatti did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Avenatti became famous for representing porn star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in lawsuits involving Trump and his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Trump has denied Daniels' claim that she had sex with him.

Prosecutors have accused Avenatti of demanding more than $20 million from Nike or else he would go public with allegations it paid college basketball recruits for teams it sponsored.

They also said Avenatti agreed to back off only if Nike would pay $1.5 million to his client, basketball coach Gary Franklin, and as much $25 million for him and another lawyer to investigate.

Nike has denied Avenatti's claims.

In Monday's filing, Avenatti said it was not "wrongful" to threaten exposing "truthful information about Nike's misconduct," even if the Beaverton, Oregon-based athletic wear company suffered reputational or economic harm.

He said doing so was protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that federal extortion statutes did not put him on notice that he might face prosecution.

Berman's office has also charged Avenatti with stealing about $300,000 from Daniels after helping her secure a book contract.

Federal prosecutors in Southern California, meanwhile, have separately charged Avenatti with wire fraud, bank fraud and other crimes, saying he stole millions of dollars from clients.

Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to the various charges and could face more than 400 years in prison if convicted. A trial in the Nike case is scheduled for Nov. 12.

The case is U.S. v. Avenatti, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-cr-00373.


(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)