Michael Avenatti is headed to trial.
Jury selection began today in New York on a federal suit related to the embattled attorney’s alleged attempt to extort Nike. Avenatti, who rose to fame representing the adult film star Stormy Daniels in a legal battle against President Donald Trump, is accused of attempting to extort more than $20 million from the Swoosh in exchange for not publicizing alleged illicit payments to student athletes.
Avenatti currently faces three counts: two extortion-related charges, intent to extort and violation of the Hobbs Act, which criminalizes extortion, as well as honest service wire fraud. He has pled not guilty to all charges.
Below, FN rounds up five things to know about the extortion case as the trial gets underway.
Avenatti was arrested minutes after he tweeted a plan to reveal a bribery scandal.
In March 2019, Avenatti was arrested 15 minutes after he divulged via Twitter his plan to reveal a basketball bribery scandal in tandem with that year’s March Madness tournament. The celebrity lawyer allegedly plotted to siphon millions of dollars from the Swoosh by threatening to go public with evidence of illicit payments to student athletes, including Zion Williamson, ahead of the company’s third-quarter earnings report, which also happened to align with the timing of the March Madness tournament. Avenatti claimed he learned of purported misconduct by Nike executives through his client Gary Franklin, who coached a team in Nike’s grassroots basketball league. The athletic giant has denied wrongdoing.
He says charges should be dropped on grounds of ‘vagueness.’
Earlier this month, the court denied Avenatti’s request for all charges against him to be dropped. His legal team argued that the intent to extort and violation of the Hobbs Act charges should be dismissed on grounds of “insufficiency and vagueness.” Avenatti has also argued that all charges against him are related to acts that were “independently lawful and independently protected by the First Amendment,” and he alleges that he’s been charged with a “speech crime.”
Avenatti is currently being held in a New York jail.
Since his arrival in New York on Friday, Avenatti has been awaiting trial at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), which formerly housed businessman and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. As was the case with Epstein, Avenatti is being held in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), the most restrictive area of the prison. Avenatti’s lawyers have requested that he be released into the MCC’s general population, but the requests have so far not been satisfied. Avenatti’s legal team also claims that he is being held in the former cell of the infamous drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
The charges could result in more than 40 years of jail time.
One of the initial four charges brought against him one has been dropped. If found guilty of all three remaining charges, Avenatti could face more than 40 years in jail, but experts say he would likely receive a shorter sentence. The attorney is currently accused of: intent to extort, violation of the Hobbs Act, which criminalizes extortion, and honest service wire fraud.
Avenatti is involved in multiple other legal cases.
The lawyer is accused by prosecutors in New York of embezzling around $300,000 from Stormy Daniels after assisting her with securing a book deal. Also, in southern California, prosecutors allege Avenatti embezzled millions of dollars from clients, lied to the Internal Revenue Service and conned a bank. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to more than 300 years in prison. Should he be convicted, Avenatti is likely to be disbarred.
Avenatti and Nike did not respond to requests for comment.