Michael Avenatti – An Overview of Charges

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Michael Avenatti was a successful 48-year-old attorney based in Los Angeles, California, focused on class-action and whistleblower cases. He claims to have won over $1 billion in settlements and verdicts for his clients throughout his career. Avenatti’s alma mater, George Washington University Law School, even annually recognized a graduating student with the Michael J. Avenatti Award for Excellence in Pre-Trial and Trial Advocacy.

Avenatti rose to fame after he represented adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump alleging that Trump paid Daniels prior to the 2016 presidential election to prevent her from disclosing that Trump had an affair with the actress. Avenatti appeared on major news networks, Twitter, and other media outlets and quickly became a prominent figure in the opposition movement against Trump.

Recently, Michael Avenatti was simultaneously charged with two different cases by different jurisdictions. The first was a charge in Santa Ana, California for embezzlement. Specifically, he was charged with bank and wire fraud after allegedly fraudulently obtaining $4 million in bank loans and pocketing $1.6 million that belonged to a client. Federal prosecutors in California accuse Avenatti of using the client’s $1.6 million legal settlement for personal use, including spending $216,000 at Neiman Marcus, $68,500 at a luxury watch store, almost half a million dollars to pay a home mortgage, and spending a couple of thousands of dollars on a Porsche.

The second charge was in New York for extortion. Avenatti was arrested in New York on Monday, March 25, 2019, and accused of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike. Specifically, the charges allege an attempt to extort more than $20 million to prevent allegations that the employees of the athletic gear and shoe company engaged in misconduct during the quarterly earnings call and before the start of the NCAA tournament. Avenatti alleged a senior executive at Nike “has bribed over 100 high school players over the last four years to play college basketball at colleges affiliated with Nike as opposed to other schools.”[1]Avenatti was released on a $300,000 bail from federal court and said he expects to be exonerated.

Avenatti publicly released documents in early April 2019, related to his allegations that Nike paid families of top college basketball recruits. These documents allege that approximately $170,000 in cash was delivered to people related to top players such as Deandre Ayton, Bol Bol, and Brandon McCoy. Avenatti contends that these payments were disguised as business expenses and delivered through fake invoices. Avenatti also alleged on Twitter that he has proof that Zion Williamson’s mother, Shaondra Sampson received payments from Nike for “consulting services” while Zion was still in high school.

Nike said on Saturday, April 6, 2019, that it “will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion and aid in his [Avenatti’s] disgraceful attempts to distract from the athletes on the court at the height of the tournament.”[2]

Duke University also said on Saturday, April 6, 2019, that it is “looking into allegations made by Michael Avenatti that Nike paid Williamson’s mother in an effort to get Williamson to choose Duke.[3]

Avenatti expects to appear in federal court in Santa Ana on April 29, 2019, to determine the fate of his Californian court case, which is unrelated to his allegations against Nike.  The extortion case will likely continue to be discussed publicly as details surface.

[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/duke-says-it-is-looking-into-allegations-by-michael-avenatti-about-zion-williamsons-mother/

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/nike-says-it-won-t-respond-latest-allegations-attorney-michael-n991731

[3] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/duke-says-it-is-looking-into-allegations-by-michael-avenatti-about-zion-williamsons-mother/

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