Crime and Courts

Tapes of Avenatti Threats Highlight Extortion Trial Closings

Michael Avenatti
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Michael Avenatti's attorney borrowed Nike's iconic advertising slogan in a closing argument Tuesday at an extortion trial, saying Avenatti followed a client's wishes to be in attack mode when he went into a meeting with the apparel giant's lawyers intent to “Just Do It" for his client.

The attorney, Howard Srebnick, urged jurors to disregard the California attorney's four-letter words as he threatened Nike lawyers that he'd publicize misdeeds and pummel the value of the company's stock unless he was paid up to $25 million to conduct an internal probe.

“This was exactly what the clients wanted. He acted in good faith. Not guilty,” Srebnick told Manhattan federal court jurors of the meeting Avenatti had last March with Nike attorneys.

Srebnick's brother, Scott, another lawyer representing Avenatti, told jurors that an amateur youth basketball coach in California and the coach's adviser considered Avenatti to be the kind of “heavy artillery” they needed on their side to force out corruption at Nike and get a fair settlement.

Howard Srebnick told jurors that Avenatti was “on a mission” for his clients when he met with Nike's lawyers.

“In the words of Nike itself, he went in there to ‘Just Do It,’ for his client," he said.

The defense arguments came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky repeatedly played recorded demands and threats Avenatti made at his meeting with Nike attorneys, arguing for a conviction on two attempted extortion counts and an honest services fraud charge.

“This is what extortion sounds like,” the prosecutor said.

On one recording, Avenatti could be heard threatening to take $5 billion or $6 billion off the value of Nike's stock if his demands were not met.

Closing arguments were the culmination of a three-week trial for the California lawyer who gained fame representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump. For a time, the 48-year-old attorney was a frequent guest on cable television programs.

Deliberations were expected to begin Wednesday after jurors hear instructions on the law.

Prosecutors say Avenatti threatened to use his fame to stage a news conference and deliver proof that Nike executives were corrupting college basketball by funding payments to elite young players and their families unless he was paid millions of dollars to conduct the internal probe.

At the time, prosecutors say, Avenatti faced at least $11 million in debts. His former law firm office manager testified that finances were so desperate last March that his several employees had been evicted from their $50,000-a-month offices and were working from their homes.

In his closing, Podolsky said Avenatti was looking out for himself and his financial needs rather than his client, Gary Franklin, a Los Angeles amateur basketball coach.

“Michael Avenatti, facing a mountain of debt, saw light at the end of the tunnel,” Podolsky said. “He saw a meal ticket: Gary Franklin.”

Franklin testified last week that he hoped that a high-profile lawyer like Avenatti would restore a decade-long sponsorship relationship between his amateur league and Nike after he got the company to punish two executives who demanded he play a role in payments to athletes' families.

The prosecutor said Avenatti “saw an opportunity to get out from a mountain of debt in one fell swoop.”

He said Avenatti may have worn a suit, used legal terms and acted like a lawyer, but what he did was an “old fashioned shakedown.”

Podolsky said Avenatti did not tell Franklin he was demanding to be allowed to conduct an internal probe of Nike for at least $15 million before he would agree to settle Franklin's claims.

On one recorded conversation played for jurors, Avenatti could 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.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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