Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti found guilty in Nike extortion case

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A jury convicted disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti on Friday of three charges related to his attempt to extort global athletic apparel company Nike out of $25 million. The verdict came down in the in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The 48-year-old tried to get the eight-figure sum from the company in exchange for not releasing allegations of misconduct against employees of the company; he was arrested in March of 2019. His conviction includes two counts of attempted extortion and one for honest services fraud.

Prosecutors argued that Avenatti threatened Nike because of an outstanding debt of $11 million at the time. A former office manager from his law firm said things got so bad that employees had to work from their homes because they got evicted from the $50,000-a-month office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky repeatedly played recordings of Avenatti making demands and threats while meeting with Nike attorneys. One recording featured the lawyer taking $5 billion or $6 billion off the value of Nike's stock as a threat.

But the highlight of the trial reportedly happened during closing when Avenatti's attorney used Nike's iconic slogan while speaking to the jury. The lawyer argued that his use of harsh language was because the disgraced attorney was "on a mission" to help his client.

"In the words of Nike itself, he went in there to 'Just Do It' for his client," Howard Srebnick, Avenatti's defense lawyer, said.

In March 2019, Avenatti teased that he had uncovered a major high school and college basketball scandal. The claim is that he had proof that Nike employees contacted former grassroots basketball coach Gary Franklin about giving payment to amateur players. A federal judge ruled in early January that Avenatti had no right to act on behalf of his client in demanding millions. 

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