- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2019

Michael Avenatti tweeted Monday that he would soon hold a press conference to release damaging information about Nike. Instead, it was federal prosecutors who held a press conference Monday afternoon to charge Mr. Avenatti with attempting to extort more than $25 million from Nike.

And for good measure, federal prosecutors in California announced additional charges of financial fraud, saying the prominent anti-Trump lawyer didn’t pay taxes, embezzled money from a client to use for his own chain of coffee shops, and lied to obtain millions of dollars in bank loans.

It was a staggering description of lawlessness for a man who just months ago was a regular guest on CNN, represented the prominent anti-Trump porn actress, was exploring a run for the Democratic presidential nomination and even attempted to insert himself into the fight over the confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

The U.S. attorney who brought the case in California called Mr. Avenatti “a corrupt lawyer who instead fights for his own selfish interests.” The prosecutor who brought the Nike case in New York said Mr. Avenatti was acting like any other gangster.

“A suit and tie doesn’t mask the fact that at its core this was an old-fashioned shakedown,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Stormy Daniels, the porn actress client who is the reason most Americans know Mr. Avenatti, announced she had cut ties with him a month ago, saying she thinks he “dealt with me extremely dishonestly.” She promised “more announcements to come.”

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump, on a winning streak, gets ‘icing on cake’ with Avenatti charges

“Knowing what I know now about Michael Avenatti, I am saddened but not shocked by news reports that he has been criminally charged today,” she said in a statement.

Reporters wondered whether the timing of the indictments was tied in any way to the end of the special counsel’s investigation of President Trump.

The prosecutors involved said it was pure coincidence and that the cases came together suddenly, thanks to Mr. Avenatti’s moves against Nike. They pointed out that the California investigation dated to 2015, under the Obama administration, when the IRS tried to collect payroll taxes that it said Mr. Avenatti failed to pay for one of his businesses.

That was initially a civil collection, but when the IRS revenue officer spotted attempts by Mr. Avenatti to move money to conceal his behavior, that sparked the criminal investigation.

Now, investigators say they have uncovered evidence that he submitted false tax returns to a Mississippi bank to obtain a loan. The returns had to be false because Mr. Avenatti failed to file returns for 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was already more than $850,000 in arrears to the IRS from 2009 and 2010, authorities said.

More recently, Mr. Avenatti won a settlement for a client but then lied about the date of payment and siphoned off the money to pay for his own expenses stemming from a chain of coffee shops he owned, prosecutors said.

SEE ALSO: Michael Avenatti vows to be ‘fully exonerated’ in Nike extortion case

When the client demanded his money, Mr. Avenatti concealed his fraud and 15 months later has yet to pay the full amount owed, said Nick Hanna, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.

The IRS investigation is continuing, Mr. Hanna said.

Meanwhile, the New York case came together quickly.

Authorities said it began when Mr. Avenatti reached out to Nike on March 19, saying he had embarrassing information that the sporting goods giant should pay him to keep secret.

Nike reported the move to federal authorities, who then recorded Mr. Avenatti as he laid out his demands: a $1.5 million payment to his client and an offer of $15 million to $25 million to himself to conduct an investigation of the company.

He said there was another option.

“Avenatti told the company it could skip paying for an internal investigation if instead it simply paid him $22.5 million. Then Avenatti said he would ‘ride off into the sunset,’” Mr. Berman recounted.

Mr. Avenatti appeared to confirm the scam with his Twitter post just after noon Monday announcing he would hold a press conference to slam Nike of “a major high school/college basketball scandal.”

“This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball,” Mr. Avenatti tweeted.

Mr. Berman said Mr. Avenatti timed his threats to coincide with the NCAA’s annual basketball tournament and Nike’s quarterly earnings call. He told Nike that he could chop $10 billion off its market value if it didn’t pay him off.

Nike did not have a comment on Mr. Avenatti’s specific allegations of payoffs but said it has been cooperating with prosecutors for more than a year on broader allegations against the shoe industry.

“Nike will not be extorted or hide information that is relevant to a government investigation,” the company said in a statement. The company “will continue to assist the prosecutors.”

Mr. Avenatti, usually eager to engage on Twitter, was silent Monday evening. But after his release on a $300,000 bond in a New York courtroom, he said he will be “fully exonerated,” according to The Associated Press.

The criminal charges aren’t the only legal jeopardy the lawyer faces.

Last year, he represented a woman who came forward to try to derail the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh with allegations of rape.

That woman, Julie Swetnick, has since had her story discredited. She and Mr. Avenatti have been referred to the Justice Department for investigation into whether they lied to Congress.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide