Michael Avenatti pleads not guilty to trying to extort up to $25million from Nike
- Michael Avenatti entered the not guilty plea in Manhattan federal court Tuesday
- He is accused of trying to extort up to $25million from Nike Inc by threatening to publicize claims the sportswear giant made improper payments to athletes
- The California attorney’s New York trial is scheduled for January 21, 2020
Michael Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to trying to extort up to $25million from Nike Inc by threatening to publicize claims the sportswear giant made improper payments to athletes.
Avenatti entered the plea in US District Court in Manhattan on Tuesday as he prepares to face trial beginning on January 21. Prosecutors had dropped conspiracy charges in a rewritten indictment.
The California attorney also faces trial April 21 in a separate New York criminal case in which he is charged with ripping off ex-client porn star Stormy Daniels after she signed a book deal.
In Los Angeles, a May 19 trial is scheduled on charges he defrauded clients of millions of dollars by diverting money they were to be paid to accounts he controlled. He denies charges in all three cases.
Michael Avenatti pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to an indictment alleging he tried to extort up to $25million from Nike Inc by threatening to publicize claims the sportswear giant made improper payments to athletes. He is pictured outside Manhattan federal court
The sketch above shows Avenatti in Manhattan federal court entering his plea on Tuesday
US District Judge Paul G Gardephe said he’ll pass out a jury questionnaire on January 21 to up to 120 potential jurors before beginning oral questioning of prospective jurors the following day.
Gardephe said the questionnaires were necessary because Avenatti had been the subject of so much media coverage before and after all the charges were brought last spring.
In the Nike case, Avenatti is accused of demanding money from Nike in exchange for agreeing to scrap a threatened news conference on the company’s alleged improper payments to elite college basketball recruits.
Avenatti has said he was targeted unfairly by the government because of his high-profile public persona and his feud with President Donald Trump.
Avenatti’s trial in the Nike case is set to begin on January 21. The attorney is pictured Tuesday
Avenatti (above in a court sketch from Tuesday) has said he was targeted unfairly by the government because of his high-profile public persona and his feud with President Trump
Although he has not yet formally ruled, the judge told prosecutors he was only going to let them call one expert rather than two to testify about the professional obligations and duties of California lawyers.
He also said he would not let the witness give opinions about Avenatti’s conduct as prosecutors try to prove a charge added in the new indictment that Avenatti committed honest services fraud through his actions.
Gardephe said the testimony could be relevant, if properly limited, but he added that the trial should not become an ‘attorney grievance proceeding.’
‘I’m not going to allow it to take over the trial,’ he said.
Assistant US Attorney Matthew Podolsky said the evidence was straightforward to support a ‘classic honest services fraud’ even though it was not brought against a public official, which is more common.
Defense attorney Scott Srebnick said he wants to question witnesses from Nike about the company’s motivations for reporting Avenatti’s actions to prosecutors.
He noted that Nike was under investigation at the time after four assistant basketball coaches at major schools and others were arrested in September 2017 in connection with bribes paid to coaches and families of top athletes to steer them toward handlers who could represent them when they joined the NBA.
Srebnick said the claims against Avenatti were the kind that would normally be a civil matter.
The judge seemed unimpressed.
‘My gut reaction is I’m not sure it’s relevant why the Nike lawyers did what they did,’ Gardephe said, though he added that it was obvious they had reason to curry favor with prosecutors.