Closing arguments in Michael Avenatti’s Nike extortion case were heard in New York’s Southern District court on Tuesday — and federal prosecutors attempted to persuade jurors by replaying an audio tape.
In the recording, taken at a March 2019 meeting, the embattled attorney can be heard telling Nike lawyers: “A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me. I’ll go take $10 billion dollars off your market cap.”
Prosecutors claim that Avenatti attempted to extort more than $20 million from the Beaverton, Ore.-based athletic brand in exchange for not publicizing its alleged illicit payments to student athletes. Avenatti, who rose to fame representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in a suit against President Donald Trump, currently faces three counts related to his purported extortion attempt: intent to extort; violation of the Hobbs Act, which criminalizes extortion; and honest service wire fraud. The celebrity lawyer has pled not guilty to all charges.
Below, FN rounds up the main takeaways from closing arguments made by both the prosecution and Avenatti’s defense team.
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Prosecution: ‘That is what extortion sounds like’
After replaying the recording from the March 2019 meeting, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky told jurors, “That is what extortion sounds like.”
“That is Michael Avenatti telling Nike lawyers that Nike has to pay him. Why? Because if they don’t he is going to make it hurt,” Podolsky continued.
In March 2019, Avenatti was arrested 15 minutes after he tweeted a plan to reveal The Swoosh’s alleged payments to student athletes. The tweet was made just days ahead of the start of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and also came shortly before Nike released its third-quarter earnings report.
Defense: Avenatti wanted to ‘Just Do It’ for his client
Borrowing Nike’s decades-long slogan, defense attorney Howard Srebnick said that Avenatti wanted to “‘Just Do It” for his client, Gary Franklin, a coach in the athletic powerhouse’s grassroots basketball league. Srebnick claimed that Avenatti did exactly what he was hired by Franklin to do: “to clean up elite basketball and find out how high up the corruption goes.”
“This was exactly what the client wanted. He acted in good faith: Not guilty,” Srebnick told jurors, reminding them of texts and emails allegedly exchanged between Franklin and an adviser. In the texts, Franklin and the adviser allegedly claimed they wanted to “go after Nike” and “expose misconduct,” according to Srebnick.
In testimony last week, Franklin told the jury that he “felt like [Avenatti] totally betrayed [his] trust” by planning a press conference to expose Nike’s alleged wrongdoings.
Prosection: ‘This is about getting millions for Michael Avenatti’
In response to the defense’s claim that Avenatti acted on behalf of his client, Podolsky argued that the purpose of Avenatti’s “old fashioned shakedown” was not to benefit Franklin but rather to line his own pockets.
“This isn’t about justice. This is about getting millions for Michael Avenatti,” Podolsky said, claiming that Avenatti was in “crushing debt” last March and planned to use the Franklin case to make money.
“The defendant had his own agenda,” the assistant U.S. attorney told jurors. “Avenatti was not working for Franklin when he was asking to get paid.”
Jurors are deliberating on the three charges — intent to extort, violation of the Hobbs Act and honest service wire fraud — today. If found guilty on all three counts, Avenatti could be sentenced to more than 40 years in jail; experts say, however, that he is likely to receive a shorter sentence if convicted.
Avenatti could face additional prison time if found guilty in other criminal suits set to be tried soon. Prosecutors in New York allege that he embezzled about $300,000 from Daniels after helping her secure a book deal. In Southern California, prosecutors have accused Avenatti of embezzling millions from clients, lying to the Internal Revenue Service and conning a bank. The attorney could be sentenced to more than 300 years in prison if found guilty on the charges. A guilty sentence would also likely result in Avenatti being disbarred.
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