NEW YORK — Michael Avanetti, best known for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump, was arrested Monday and charged with extorting between $15 and $25 million from Nike, the sports apparel giant.
Avanetti, an outspoken critic of president Trump, had at one time vowed to make it his “life’s work” to see Trump indicted on charges of rigging the 2016 presidential election. The New York based attorney’s arrest comes just one day after a report released by special counsel Robert Mueller cleared the president of such allegations.
Prosecutors allege that Avenatti, who claimed to have “dirt” on the Nike corporation, had threatened “to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met.”
“As alleged, Michael Avenatti approached Nike last week with a list of financial demands in exchange for covering up allegations of misconduct on behalf of the company,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney Jr. said in a released statement. “The lofty price tag included a $1.5 million payoff for Avenatti’s client and upwards of tens of millions of dollars for the legal services of his firm – services Nike never requested. This is nothing more than a straightforward case of extortion.”
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Monday that Avenatti, 48, had engaged in “a shakedown” against the company.
“Our system of justice requires and relies on attorneys, members of the bar, to not simply follow the law, but uphold its finest principles and ideals,” Berman said in a statement. “But when lawyers use their law licenses as weapons, as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys. They are acting as criminals, and they will be held responsible for their conduct.”
Co-named in the allegations against Avanetti Monday was Mark Geragos, an attorney who has represented such defendants as Michael Jackson, accused killer Scott Peterson and — more recently — “Empire” star Jussie Smollett, who was charged with falsely reporting a hate crime. Geragos also works as a contributor to CNN.
So far Avanetti has been charged with extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, conspiracy to transmit interstate communications with intent to extort, and conspiracy to commit extortion.
Avenatti has also been charged with wire fraud and bank fraud in a separate case in California.
Daniels, who claims she terminated Avanetti as her attorney a month ago, says she was not shocked to hear of his arrest.
“Knowing what I know now about Michael Avenatti, I am saddened but not shocked by news reports that he has been criminally charged today,” Daniels told reporters. “I made the decision more than a month ago to terminate Michael’s services after discovering that he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly and there will be more announcements to come.”