Michael Avenatti was more than $15 million in debt when he tried to extort $25 million from Nike, federal prosecutors said in a New York court filing.
The California attorney and longtime nemesis of President Trump racked up a slew of liabilities — he owed money to former clients and law partners and alimony and child support to two ex-wives, according to the filing. He was also in arrears on a racing car, a Porsche and a Ferrari, court documents revealed.
Federal prosecutors said Mr. Avenatti owed so many people that $15 million was a conservative estimate.
Mr. Avenatti, 48, is accused of attempting to extort Nike by demanding $25 million in exchange for staying silent about a purported illegal branding deal scheme facilitated by the sneaker company. Nike has insisted there was no such deal and reported Mr. Avenatti to the FBI.
Prosecutors said Mr. Avenatti had “the need and motive to quickly generate substantial sums of money at the time when he engaged in the charged conduct,” according to the late Tuesday court filing.
Mr. Avenatti denied the allegations in a statement to The Associated Press.
“Any claim that I was $15 million in debt is ridiculous, absurd and laughable,” he said. “I look forward to the upcoming trial at which time I will be exonerated and the truth will be known.”
Attorneys for Mr. Avenatti said he legally requested to conduct an internal probe and Nike had indicated they were interested in an investigation. They claimed to have evidence that Nike’s payments to amateur athletes, including high school players, and 10 different coaches were “pervasive.”
Defense attorneys say Mr. Avenatti’s price tag for helming an internal probe was a bargain, citing a story in The New York Times that said such probes can cost more than $100 million.
Scott Srebnick, an attorney for Mr. Avenatti, argued information about his client’s financial liabilities would “invite a jury to engage in class-based bias regarding the defendant’s wealth.”
The criminal trial, one of three trials Mr. Avenatti faces over the next five months, is scheduled to start in January. He is also accused of defrauding former client and adult film star Stormy Daniels and scamming other former clients out of millions of dollars.
Mr. Avenatti has maintained his innocence in all three cases.
The lawyer first grabbed headlines when he represented Ms. Daniels in her lawsuit against Mr. Trump. She claims she had an affair with the president years before he was a candidate for office.
Mr. Trump has denied the claims, and he and Mr. Avenatti have frequently attacked each other on Twitter.