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Law & the Courts

Avenatti Indicted by Federal Prosecutors on Extortion, Fraud Charges

Michael Avenatti speaks to the media members in Chicago, Ill., February 23, 2019. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)

Michael Avenatti was indicted Monday by federal prosecutors in New York and Los Angeles in connection with a spate of financial crimes.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York accused Avenatti, who formerly represented pornographer Stormy Daniels, of trying to extort Nike by threatening to release damaging information related to the apparel company’s interaction with amateur athletes if they didn’t pay him a large sum.

Avenatti worked “to extract more than $20 million in payments from a publicly traded company by threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met,” according to SDNY prosecutors. Those threats, which were made over the phone and in-person meetings with Nike’s attorneys, were recorded.

“A suit and tie does not mask that fact that, at its core, this was an old-fashioned shake down,” U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman said when announcing the charges Monday.

The charges were made public minutes after Avenatti announced that he would host a Tuesday press conference to reveal “a major high school/college basketball scandal” perpetrated by Nike.

The celebrity attorney was also indicted in Los Angeles on charges that he embezzled funds from his clients to cover his own expenses.

Avenatti rose to prominence representing Daniels in her effort to defeat a non-disclosure agreement related to her extramarital affair with President Trump. Daniels and Avenatti recently severed their relationship following a dispute over Avenatti’s control over Daniels’s crowd-funded legal expenses.

The newly announced indictments are just the latest in a string of legal battles Avenatti has been forced to confront following his elevation to the national public spotlight. He was arrested in November on suspicion of domestic violence but was ultimately acquitted and his law firm, Eagan Avenatti, was evicted from its office space the same month following a lengthy legal dispute over unpaid rent.

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