Michael Avenatti has been arrested and accused of four counts of wire and bank fraud by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. This comes hours after he said he was planning a press conference regarding an NCAA and Nike basketball scandal. The day after his arrest, Avenatti tweeted that Phoenix Suns’ star Deandre Ayton’s mother had received cash payments from Nike.
Avenatti’s arrest was first reported by Reuters’ Jan Wolfe in the early afternoon of March 25. Avenatti is accused of attempting to extort $20 million from Nike regarding the scandal. Avenatti is also facing separate charges from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of New York. If convicted on all charges, Avenatti could face up to 50 years in prison.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Avenatti Is Accused of Meeting With Nike’s Lawyers on March 19 & Seeking a ‘Multi-Million Dollar Payment’
Documents in the Nike case, which you can read here, say that on March 19, Avenatti and cooperating witness met with Nike’s lawyers. There, Avenatti threatened to release damaging information to Nike unless the company made a “multi-million dollar” payment to him and the cooperating witness, authorities say. The documents also say that Avenatti was asking for $1.5 million to a person who he “claimed to represent.”
Less than an hour before his arrest, Avenatti tweeted, “Tmrw at 11 am ET, we will be holding a press conference to disclose a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated by @Nike that we have uncovered. This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball.” Shortly after Avenatti’s announcement, CNBC reported that Nike’s shares had dropped to a “session” low.
2. Avenatti Is Being Accused in California of Using a Client’s Settlement Fee to Pay Off His Coffee Shop Debts
In addition to the Southern District of New York charges, Nicola T. Hanna, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said in a press release that Avenatti was also being accused by his office of embezzling a client’s settlement fee. The office says that Avenatti lied to a client about the timing and amount that was being paid in a settlement. Hanna’s office says that Avenatti used the settlement to pay off debts accrued by his coffee business Global Baristas US LLC.
While in Mississippi, Avenatti is accused of submitting false tax information in order to secure loans. Hanna said in the press release, “A lawyer has a basic duty not to steal from his client. Mr. Avenatti is facing serious criminal charges alleging he misappropriated client trust funds for his personal use and he defrauded a bank by submitting phony tax returns in order to obtain millions of dollars in loans.”
3. Avenatti Was Most Recently in the News as He Represented R. Kelly’s Alleged Victim
A press conference on the arrest is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Avenatti first came to prominence as the lawyer representing porn star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump over her attempts to break a non-disclosure agreement the pair had over their alleged 2006 affair. Daniels said in a statement following Avenatti’s arrest that she was “saddened but not shocked.” Daniels said that she had terminated their professional working relationship after “discovering that he had dealt with me extremely dishonestly.”
Since representing Daniels, Avenatti has not been out of the public sphere for long. In November 2018, he was accused in a domestic violence case regarding his then-girlfriend Mareli Miniutti. Most recently, Avenatti has been representing the alleged victims of singer R. Kelly.
4. Donald Trump Jr. Took the Opportunity to Poke Fun at Avenatti
One of Avenatti’s frequent rivals on Twitter, Donald Trump Jr., said in response to the news of the lawyer’s arrest, “Hey @MichaelAvenatti – It looks like you’ll be the one spending time behind bars after all.” In October 2018, Avenatti tweeted, “Donald Trump Jr. will be indicted before his birthday on 12-31-18. If you doubt my prediction, please check my record over the last 7 months. #Winning.” That proved to not be the case. The day before Avenatti’s March 2019 arrest, Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, it was widely reported that there would be no further indictments handed down in the case.
5. Avenatti Announced in December 2018 That He Would Not Seek the Presidency
Avenatti ended months of speculation in December 2018 when he announced that he would not seek the Democratic nomination to be president of the United States. The lawyer said in a statement at the time that his decision not to run was related to concerns for his family members. He said, “I do not make this decision lightly — I make it out of respect for my family. But for their concerns, I would run.” Although, Avenatti said that he would continue to represent “others against Donald Trump and his cronies and will not rest until Trump is removed from office, and our republic and its values are restored.”