June 18, 2019 / 7:50 PM / a month ago

Michael Avenatti gets trial date over alleged Nike extortion

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyer Michael Avenatti, an outspoken critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, is scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 12 in federal court in Manhattan on charges of extorting Nike Inc.

FILE PHOTO: Lawyer Michael Avenatti departs federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe scheduled the trial at a hearing on Tuesday, according to a court record. Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“I look forward to a New York jury hearing all of the relevant evidence relating to Nike,” the California lawyer wrote in an email. “I have complete confidence in the truth and am confident that I will be exonerated at the end of the trial.”

Avenatti, 48, was arrested on March 25 in New York on charges of trying to extort more than $20 million from Nike by threatening to expose what he called its improper payments to recruits for college basketball teams it sponsored. Nike has denied wrongdoing.

He has been separately charged in two other cases.

In one, also in New York, prosecutors claim that Avenatti defrauded porn star Stormy Daniels, the client who propelled him to fame. They say he diverted two $148,750 instalment payments from Daniels’ $800,000 book advance to himself by forging her signature in a letter to her literary agent and directing that the money be sent to his bank account.

In the other case, prosecutors in Los Angeles claim that Avenatti stole millions of dollars from clients to pay for personal and business expenses and lied to the Internal Revenue Service and a Mississippi bank about his finances.

Avenatti, who remains free on bail, has pleaded not guilty in both other cases. Trial dates have not yet been scheduled.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 by Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen shortly before the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump in 2006. The president has denied having sex with her.

Avenatti began representing Daniels in litigation involving the hush money deal in 2018. He became a fixture on cable news channels as an outspoken critic of Trump, and briefly toyed with running for president in 2020.

Daniels said on Twitter on the day of Avenatti’s arrest that she had decided to terminate Avenatti’s services more than a month earlier.

Avenatti said Tuesday that he had terminated Daniels as a client on Feb. 19, and that Daniels had not indicated she was firing him at any time before then.

Cohen is about six weeks into a three-year prison term after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations related to the hush money payment to Daniels and other financial crimes.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Susan Thomas

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