A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti for plotting to extort up to $25 million from Nike. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Avenatti’s claim that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support his conviction on charges of extortion and honest-services fraud. A three-judge panel found that evidence, including bank statements, text messages, emails, and witness testimony, was enough to support the conclusion that Avenatti had no legitimate claim to a personal payment from Nike.
Avenatti, who gained fame representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in litigation against former President Donald Trump, was convicted last year for stealing book proceeds from Daniels. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison for stealing settlement funds from clients and failing to pay taxes for a coffee chain he owned. In the Nike case, Avenatti was sentenced to 2½ years in prison and ordered to pay $260,000 in restitution.
According to prosecutors, Avenatti and another lawyer, identified as Mark Geragos, approached Nike in March 2019, claiming to have evidence of the company paying amateur basketball players. Avenatti demanded a settlement payment to the whistleblower and threatened to hold a news conference to expose the alleged corruption if Nike did not comply. Prosecutors stated that Avenatti demanded a payment of $15 million to $25 million for an internal investigation or more than $22 million for his silence.
Avenatti was arrested in New York as he was about to meet with Nike lawyers. On the same day, federal prosecutors in California charged him with stealing from clients. Evidence presented during the extortion trial revealed Avenatti’s substantial debt and lavish lifestyle, including a private jet, expensive cars, and artwork.
Avenatti’s law license is suspended, and he is currently incarcerated at a federal prison near Los Angeles. He is scheduled to be released in 2036.