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World & Nation

Michael Avenatti, accused of attempted extortion, blames ‘vindictive’ prosecutors

Michael Avenatti
Michael Avenatti outside court in New York on July 23.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Lawyer Michael Avenatti asked a judge to dismiss criminal charges that he tried to extort Nike and blamed his arrest on vindictive prosecutors as he released materials his attorneys say support his claims that the sportswear company was paying amateur athletes.

Avenatti’s attorneys filed papers Wednesday in Manhattan federal court, saying the lawyer who gained fame by representing porn star Stormy Daniels and by sparring on social media with President Trump is being unfairly targeted by the Justice Department.

The lawyers wrote that Avenatti was facing criminal charges in part because of “his aggressive public persona, long feud with President Trump, and brief entanglement with” New York prosecutors who blamed him for spoiling a planned meeting with Daniels last year in their probe of ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges.

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“President Trump, the leader of the Executive Branch, and his family have demonstrated genuine animus toward Mr. Avenatti,” the lawyers said. “President Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., gleefully celebrated on Twitter when Mr. Avenatti was arrested on March 25.”

Prosecutors declined through a spokesman to comment.

Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to charges he tried to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to publicize claims the sportswear company enabled payouts to promising young athletes and their families.

Avenatti represented Daniels over a nondisclosure deal regarding Daniels’ claims that she had an affair with Trump.

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Avenatti is also charged separately with defrauding Daniels in a book deal, and he faces federal fraud charges in California related to clients. He has denied wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Avenatti’s lawyers attempted to buttress his claims against Nike, citing purported evidence that an unidentified University of Kentucky men’s basketball assistant coach exchanged text messages with a Nike youth league director alleging that the company’s plan to pay elite high school players included future No. 1 NBA draft pick Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford, the 14th pick. There was no claim a payment was made.

The filing said Nike Elite Youth Basketball League director Carlton Debose acknowledged texting the Wildcats assistant that Nike paid players “through at least ten different” Elite League coaches.

The filing also said a Nike executive who led “Event Strategy” for the Elite League told a colleague “about carrying large amounts of cash through airport security and indicated that she would lie and ‘just say I just sold my car’ if she got stopped.”

Nike said in a statement: “Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion. Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”

In a statement, the University of Kentucky said that the athletic department remains “committed to compliance in all facets. ... and will work closely with the NCAA and Southeastern Conference when necessary on any and all matters.”


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