Celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti, known in part for his accusations about Duke men’s basketball, has been convicted of extortion and fraud charges.
In a verdict delivered Friday by a Manhattan federal jury, Avenatti was convicted of attempting to extort Nike. The charges include “felony charges of transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, attempted extortion and honest services wire fraud,” according to ESPN.
Avenatti, who pleaded not guilty, did not testify in his own defense during the three-week trial.
Federal prosecutors held that, unless Nike paid him up to $25 million to conduct the investigation on his own, Avenatti planned to hold a news conference where he would expose Nike executives for paying young college basketball players and their families. At the time, he was more than $11 million in debt, which prosecutors believe motivated the scheme.
Avenatti is being held without bail and could potentially face up to 42 years in prison on his combined charges. He will be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Gardephe June 17.
Scott Srebnick, Avenatti’s lawyer, plans to appeal the verdict.
Avenatti came into the limelight two years ago when he represented porn star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump. His name became associated with Duke a year later, when he alleged that Nike officials bribed Zion Williamson to play at Duke.
Last April, Avenatti tweeted at the official Duke men’s basketball account requesting that they “please ask Zion Williamson’s mother - Sharonda Sampson - whether she was paid by @nike for bogus “consulting services” in 2016/17 as part of a Nike bribe to get Zion to go to Duke?”
In August 2019, he claimed in court filings that Nike officials exchanged text messages in 2017 agreeing that the company should pay Williamson more than $35,000.
Duke officials outside the athletics department held an investigation into the allegations. They found “no evidence to support any allegation,” Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, told The Chronicle in September.
After the University announced its findings, Avenatti claimed that he “never heard from anyone associated with Duke in connection with [his] allegations or any investigation.”
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In May, the lawyer will also face trial in Los Angeles for charges of defrauding other clients for millions of dollars.