Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who gained fame for representing porn star Stormy Daniels in her case against President Donald Trump, proclaimed his innocence amid charges that he allegedly attempted to extort sportswear giant Nike Inc.
The embattled attorney, who switched his Twitter account to private mode Thursday morning, was interviewed a night earlier by TMZ, where he continued to deny allegations that he tried to siphon $22.5 million from the athletic company by threatening to disclose evidence of employee misconduct.
“It’s an absolute joke,” Avenatti said in the video shared Thursday by the tabloid news site. “We didn’t try to extort anybody. Did we engage in tough negotiations? Absolutely. But we made it clear to Nike from the get-go — from the very first communications that we had with Nike — that we would not allow them to cover this up and continue the charade and corruption and parade of lies that they have perpetrated on college sports for years.”
On Monday, federal prosecutors charged Avenatti with four counts related to extortion. A complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York posited that the lawyer’s threat was timed ahead of the release of Nike’s third-quarter earnings report as well as the start of the annual NCAA basketball tournament.
“When Nike became aware of Mr. Avenatti’s plans to extort the company, Nike immediately reported this, along with the information he shared, to federal prosecutors,” the company said in a statement to FN. “We encourage Mr. Avenatti to share any information he believes he has with the government, as we have done. Nike firmly believes in ethical and fair play, both in business and sports, and will continue to assist the prosecutors.”
On Wednesday, Avenatti released photos on Twitter that he claimed were evidence of Nike’s alleged cash payments to NBA star Deandre Ayton when the athlete was still a high school student. (Ayton is a Puma ambassador.) Avenatti also revealed emails, dated June 2016, that he claims showed the firm’s payment of $10,000 to Ayton’s mother months before he started his senior year at Hillcrest Prep Academy in Arizona.
Avenatti also released screenshots of what is allegedly a conversation between Nike sports marketer Carlton DeBose, who managed Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League, and Gary Franklin, director of the Nike-sponsored Amateur Athletic Union youth team called California Supreme. The alleged exchange revealed DeBose’s query on whether Franklin got “money from the invoice” and Franklin confirming receipt.
“Nike should be criminally indicted as a corporation because they’re dirty and they’ve been dirty for years,” Avenatti said in the TMZ video. “The stunt they pulled this week is outrageous, and I’m looking forward to the truth and the facts coming to light because they lied to the government, and they played the government and prosecutors. And once the government and prosecutors realize what happened, Nike is going to be in a lot of trouble.”
Rival sportswear brand Adidas also made headlines this month when former director of global sports marketing James “Jim” Gatto received a nine-month prison sentence for his role in the NCAA pay-for-play scandal that surfaced in 2017. The trial saw Gatto, sports industry business manager Christian Dawkins and ex-Adidas consultant Merl Code admit to funneling payments to the families of top basketball recruits in the hopes of joining Adidas-sponsored programs.
Watch FN’s interview with Nike trainer Joe Holder below.
How Michael Avenatti May Have Crossed the Line Between Negotiation and Extortion in Nike Case
5 of the Most Explosive Details From the Michael Avenatti-Nike Extortion Case
Michael Avenatti Charged With Attempting To Extort More Than $20M From Nike