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Attorney Michael Avenatti was completely underwater with personal debt in the time frame during which he was accused by Nike of trying to extort $25 million.
Avenatti, 48, has been accused of trying to extort Nike by demanding $25 million for him and his client in exchange for his silence about alleged illegal branding deals. Nike maintains that there were no such deals taking place and turned Avenatti in to the authorities for attempted extortion.
The attorney, who became a household name while representing pornographic actress Stormy Daniels, pleaded not guilty, triggering a trial that will take place on Jan. 22. During a pretrial hearing to decide which evidence the jury can see, prosecutors claimed that Avenatti owed “conservatively, in excess of $15 million” to former clients, law partners, attorneys, and his ex-wife for spousal and child support.
Avenatti denied holding that much debt, telling the Associated Press, “Any claim that I was $15 million in debt is ridiculous, absurd and laughable. I look forward to the upcoming trial, at which time I will be exonerated and the truth will be known.”
The prosecution claimed that Avenatti’s debt is proof that he would stoop to low levels to try and bring in some cash, but Avenatti claimed his request for $25 million from Nike was “benign or even altruistic” because he was just trying to help the sportswear giant by offering his services to run an internal investigation into their branding deals to ensure the deals are legal.
Avenatti also claimed that Nike was just looking for a public scapegoat to draw attention away from the situation, so they chose him because President Trump “had expressed disdain” for the attorney when he was representing Daniels.
Beyond the extortion case from Nike, Avenatti faces two other trials in the next five months. He is being sued by Daniels for allegedly defrauding her out of money from a book deal, and he is being sued by a group of other ex-clients for similarly defrauding them out of funds that they were owed.