Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti is famous for his seemingly unwavering faith in his inevitable, eventual victory in whatever current scandal he finds himself at the center of, but after being arrested Monday by the feds — who say they’ve caught him red-handed on tape attempting to “shakedown” one of the most powerful companies in the world — Avenatti made a rare admission to CBS News Tuesday: He’s “scared.”
“Of course I’m nervous,” the former lawyer of porn star Stormy Daniels told CBS News’ Jericka Duncan in an interview that will air in full Wednesday. “I am nervous. I’m concerned. I’m scared. I feel terrible for my family. I feel bad for my friends.”
Famous for his defiant self-assurance, even after losing multiple legal battles with Donald Trump and amid mounting financial and legal problems, Avenatti struck a different tone with CBS after FBI agents laid out a potentially devastating case against him and his alleged co-conspirator, fellow celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, who counts Jussie Smollett and Colin Kaepernick among his lists of clients.
On Monday, Avenatti was arrested and charged with extortion in an alleged “shakedown” attempt of Nike for millions of dollars. In a complaint submitted to the Southern District of New York, FBI Special Agent Christopher Harper alleges that over the course of a few days this month, Avenatti and an unnamed co-conspirator, who multiple reports say is Geragos, “devised a scheme to extort a company [Nike] by means of an interstate communication by threatening to damage the company’s reputation if the company did not agree to make multi-million dollar payments to Avenatti and [his co-conspirator], and further agree to pay $1.5 million to a client of Avenatti’s.”
After being released on $300,000 bond Monday night, Avenatti forcefully denied the accusations, declaring he’s “highly confident that when all of the evidence is laid bare in connection with these cases, when it is all known, when due process occurs, that I will be fully exonerated and justice will be done.”
He denied the allegations again in the interview with CBS. “There’s legal experts that say I was well within the line as an aggressive attorney,” Avenatti said in his defense, CBS reports. “There’s many that say that. And the fact of the matter is, this was not extortion. People make threats all the time in connection with trying to settle a case.”
The accusations detailed by Harper, based mainly on secretly recorded exchanges between Avenatti and Nike’s attorneys, are not the only new federal charges Avenatti faces: California prosecutors charged him with wire and bank fraud “for allegedly lying to a client about a settlement payment and using bogus tax returns to obtain bank loans,” CBS notes.
In his complaint to the Southern District of New York, Special Agent Harper provides some direct quotes from Avenatti’s alleged “shakedown” of Nike, including the lawyer telling Nike’s attorneys during a secretly recorded March 20 phone call that he wanted millions for his client, himself, and his co-conspirator, or else he would hold a press conference in which he would reveal damaging accusations against Nike employees.
“I’m not f***ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti said in the call, Harper alleges. “You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem. And it’s worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing. A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me. I’m just being really frank with you. So if that’s what, if that’s what’s being contemplated, then let’s just say it was good to meet you, and we’re done. And I’ll proceed with my press conference tomorrow … I’m not f***ing around with this thing anymore. So if you guys think that you know, we’re gonna negotiate a million five, and you’re gonna hire us to do an internal investigation, but it’s gonna be capped at 3 or 5 or 7 million dollars, like let’s just be done. … And I’ll go, and I’ll go take 10 billion dollars off your client’s market cap. But I’m not f***ing around.”