NEW YORK, United States — Michael Avenatti will demand records from Nike Inc. that his lawyer says will clear him of extortion charges and prove that employees of the sportswear giant illegally funnelled money to elite high school basketball players.
Avenatti is looking for materials to show that a youth basketball coach he represented had a legitimate claim against Nike and that Avenatti was pursuing that claim, rather than trying to shake down the company for a payoff as prosecutors claim, his lawyer said at a hearing Thursday in Manhattan before US District Judge Paul Gardephe.
Scott Srebnick told Gardephe he plans to subpoena certain people involved in the conduct that led to the coach’s claim, which could include Nike employees and others. He said he’ll seek to counter prosecutors’ contention that the amount Avenatti was seeking to settle the claim was extortionate in itself, saying “the nature of the conduct was so widespread that it was actually a low estimate.” The US accuses Avenatti of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike.
Srebnick said he hoped to question lawyers for Nike, the world’s biggest sports apparel and footwear company. He stressed the potential for bias against his client if those lawyers testify, citing the shoe company’s alleged misconduct as a motive to cooperate with the government.
“We don’t think we’ve scratched the surface,” he said.
Avenatti has asked prosecutors to name the people identified as conspirators in his indictment; prosecutors have said they are considering it but that such requests are routinely denied. In court on Thursday, Gardephe noted that he’ll have to give jurors information about the conspirators should the case go to trial and said the government may want to disclose those details sooner rather than later.
Avenatti, the famous, flashy attorney who represented porn star Stormy Daniels in her claims against President Donald Trump, posted plans earlier this year to hold a news conference to unveil a case he claimed would show how “criminal conduct reached the highest levels of Nike.” The US says he offered to cancel the event if Nike paid more than $20 million for him and another lawyer to conduct an internal investigation.
Nike, which has declined to comment on the specifics of the case, reissued a statement it first put out in April.
“Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion,” the company said. “Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”
Prosecutors say Avenatti reached out to Nike with details from a client they identified as the coach of an amateur team in California. The basketball squad had a sponsorship agreement worth about $72,000 a year that Nike had recently decided not to renew.
The Wall Street Journal later identified the coach as Gary Franklin Sr., whose former players include both Deandre Ayton, the top pick in the 2018 National Basketball Association draft, and Bol Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, who was a second-round pick in this year’s draft.
Srebnick told Gardephe on Thursday that a proposed trial date of November 12 was “a bit ambitious.”
“The landscape of potential legal issues that are involved here is extensive,” he said.
The case is US v. Avenatti, 19-cr-373, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
By Chris Dolmetsch and Gerald Porter Jr, with assistance from Eben Novy-Williams; editors: David Glovin and Peter Jeffrey.