Nike has asked a judge to bar Michael Avenatti from summoning some of its sports marketing officials to court as part of his upcoming trial.
In a Thursday filing in Manhattan federal court, the Swoosh wrote that the embattled lawyer’s request to subpoena sports marketing chief John Slusher and four other executives was part of an effort to “put the government’s and Nike’s conduct on trial.” Avenatti has been accused of attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike in exchange for not publicizing allegations of a pay-to-play scheme involving top college basketball recruits.
“Mr. Avenatti would like to elicit the Nike employees’ testimony to try to establish that Nike engaged in criminal conduct and that Nike hid this criminal conduct from the government while claiming to be cooperating,” attorneys for Nike wrote. “This narrative — which paints Nike as the villain and Mr. Avenatti as the hero — is false and illogical.”
They added, “The Nike employees … never spoke with Mr. Avenatti. They were not present for Mr. Avenatti’s threats. They do not know what Mr. Avenatti’s client told Mr. Avenatti about Nike or what that client instructed Mr. Avenatti to do. All that the Nike employees might possibly offer is testimony about Nike’s actual conduct with respect to amateur basketball.”
FN has reached out to both Avenatti and Nike for comment.
The subpoenas for testimony come days after a Dec. 24 filing in which prosecutors said Avenatti’s debts exceeded $15 million when he allegedly attempted to extort the sportswear giant. The celebrity lawyer — who rose to fame while representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump — denied those claims, calling them “ridiculous and absurd.”
In March, Avenatti was arrested 15 minutes after he tweeted that he planned to reveal a basketball bribery scandal amid the annual March Madness tournament. Prosecutors charged him with four counts related to accusations that he plotted to siphon millions of dollars from the Swoosh by threatening to disclose evidence of misconduct on the part of Nike executives, ahead of the company’s third-quarter report. He alleged that Nike made illicit payments to elite student athletes, among them No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick Zion Williamson.
An amended indictment filed in mid-November removed two conspiracy counts but added a charge for honest services wire fraud, accusing Avenatti of lying to one of his clients as part of the purported extortion attempt. On Dec. 17, he said he was “not guilty” of the three counts against him, including extortion and wire fraud.
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