Michael Avenatti — the former lawyer of Donald Trump-accuser Stormy Daniels and Brett Kavanaugh-accuser Julie Swetnick who reportedly appeared on CNN and MSNBC over a hundred times over a period of just two months — has gone from “Trump slayer” to defendant in a federal investigation involving an alleged attempt to extort one of the most powerful companies in the world.
According to a legal filing submitted to the Manhattan Federal Court Tuesday, Avenatti was at least $15 million in debt when he allegedly attempted to wring over $20 million from Nike, the trial over which is set to begin next month.
“The Government does not intend to argue that the defendant was wealthy (and the evidence shows that he was not),” reads the filing, as reported by the New York Daily News.
“The Government expects that the evidence at trial will show that, at the time of his charged conduct, the defendant was in significant debt,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolksy explained in the filing. “Specifically, the Government presently estimates that the defendant’s debts at that time were, conservatively, in excess of $15 million.”
Prosecutors say Avenatti was significantly in debt to his fellow celebrity attorney, Mark Geragos — who once represented anthem protester Colin Kaepernick and was also involved in the alleged Nike “shakedown” — as well as two of Avenatti’s ex-wives and his former law partner, the NY Daily News notes.
Avenatti responded via email to the filings in a statement to the outlet. “Any claim that I was $15 million in debt is ludicrous and absurd,” the embattled lawyer insisted. “I am looking forward to the trial in this case at which time I will be fully exonerated and the truth will be known.”
Avenatti’s lawyer, Scott Srebnick, has presented what he says is evidence of Nike making secret payments to amateur athletes, a potential federal crime. Avenatti allegedly attempted to use this evidence to extort millions from the shoe giant.
“The evidence would show that, as Coach Franklin told Mr. Avenatti in their very first meeting, Nike executives had engaged in a systematic, widespread scheme to funnel money, often in cash, to amateur basketball players and their families and handlers,” Srebnick alleges in a separate legal filing.
In a complaint submitted to the Southern District of New York in March 2019, FBI Special Agent Christopher Harper accuses Avenatti of attempting to coerce Nike into paying him tens of millions. The alleged “shakedown” fell apart due to Nike tipping off the FBI in advance. The Daily Wire reported some of the details from the filing back in March:
The complaint states that on March 19, Avenatti and his co-conspirator [Geragos] met with attorneys for Nike Inc. and threatened to release their damaging allegations about Nike employees if they didn’t agree to pay them to “‘retain’ Avenatti and CC-1 to conduct an ‘internal investigation’ — an investigation that Nike did not request, for which Avenatti and CC-1 demanded to be paid, at a minimum, between $15 and $25 million.” Avenatti and his partner then spoke again with Nike’s attorney the next day by phone, Avenatti threatening, “I’ll take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap…I’m not f***ing around.” …
On a secretly recorded March 20 call, Avenatti told Nike’s attorneys that he expected to “get a million five for our [first client],” threatening, “if you don’t wanna do that, we’re done here.” After reiterating that he wanted at least $10 million not to hold the press conference, the complaint quotes Avenatti as declaring: “I’m not f***ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games …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.”
The next in-person meeting was videotaped. Harper quotes the transcript as documenting Avenatti telling Nike’s attorneys: “I just wanna share with you what’s going to happen if we don’t reach a resolution … As soon as this becomes public, I am going to receive calls from all over the country from parents and coaches and friends and all kinds of people. This is always what happens. And they are all going to say, ‘I’ve got an email or a text message.’ Now, 90 percent of that is going to be bullsh** because it’s always bullsh** 90 percent of the time, always, whether it’s R. Kelly or Trump. The list goes on and on. But 10 percent of it is actually going to be true, and then what’s going to happen is that this is going to snowball. That’s going to be the Washington Post, the New York Times, ESPN, a press conference, and the company will die — not die, but they are going to incur cut after cut after cut after cut, and that’s what’s going to happen as soon as this thing becomes public.”
At the height of his “Trump slayer” hype in 2018, Avenatti appeared on MSNBC and CNN 108 times over a 64-day period (March 7 though May 10), according to a study by the Washington Free Beacon, which the outlet calculated amounted to nearly $175 million in earned media time.
“To calculate his earned media time, the Free Beacon multiplied the length of his appearances on a program by its “National Publicity Value” determination from media monitoring site TVEyes.com,” the Free Beacon reported in May 2018. “The total came out to $174,631,598.07 from at least 65 CNN appearances and 43 MSNBC appearances. Avenatti’s favorite shows include CNN’s ‘Anderson Cooper 360’ (at least 20 interviews), MSNBC’s ‘The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell’ (14), CNN’s ‘New Day’ (12), CNN’s ‘Tonight with Don Lemon’ (eight), and MSNBC’s ‘Deadline White House’ (seven).”