NEW YORK, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Michael Avenatti had an “agenda” to shake down Nike Inc for millions of dollars by threatening to tar the apparel company with corruption allegations, a prosecutor said on Tuesday near the end of the celebrity lawyer’s extortion trial.
Federal prosecutors said Avenatti illegally promised to hold a press conference to discuss Nike’s alleged illegal payments to families of college basketball recruits, unless the company paid him and another lawyer $15 million to $25 million for an internal probe and his client Gary Franklin $1.5 million.
Prosecutors also accused Avenatti of defrauding Franklin, the coach of California Supreme, once part of a Nike-sponsored basketball league, who did not want a press conference but rather a settlement where Nike would fire executives responsible for the payments.
Nike has denied wrongdoing.
Avenatti, 48, became famous representing the adult film actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against Donald Trump, becoming a self-described “nemesis” of the U.S. president including through hundreds of television appearances.
In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky said Avenatti was trying to escape “a mountain of debt” when he tried to extort Nike last March.
Podolsky said it would have made no sense for Franklin to insist that Nike hire Avenatti, given how the coach wanted to restore his relationship with the company.
He also replayed a recording where Avenatti told a Nike lawyer he was prepared to “blow the lid off this thing” and that paying a few million dollars did not “move the needle” for him.
“The defendant had his own agenda, an agenda he never bothered to mention to his client,” Podolsky said. “That’s what this case is about, a betrayal of trust and a shakedown.”
A lawyer for Avenatti was expected to make a closing argument later on Tuesday. Defense lawyers have said Avenatti’s demands to Nike were simply part of his representation of Franklin.
Avenatti also faces scheduled trials this spring in Manhattan for allegedly defrauding Daniels out of proceeds from a book contract, and in California for allegedly defrauding several other clients.
He has been jailed in Manhattan after prosecutors in California accused him of violating bail conditions there.
Avenatti chose not to testify in the Nike case, after U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe said prosecutors would be allowed to question him about his behavior toward Daniels and other clients, without mentioning the criminal charges. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)