NEW YORK (AP) — With a trial approaching, a judge denied a request Monday from attorney Michael Avenatti to toss out charges alleging he tried to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to muddy its name.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe said in a written ruling that the indictment adequately alleges that “Avenatti used threats of economic and reputational harm to demand millions of dollars from Nike,” though it will be up to a jury to decide if prosecutors can prove criminal intent.
Avenatti responded to the ruling by saying trials are “about actual evidence, not naked allegations from only one side.”
“And when the evidence is presented to a jury, I will be acquitted of all charges because I did nothing wrong — I am completely innocent," he said in a text message.
The trial scheduled to start Jan. 22 in Manhattan is the first of three Avenatti — who is best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump — faces in coming months. In April, he is set to be tried in Manhattan on a federal indictment alleging he cheated Daniels out of a book deal's proceeds. In May, he will go on trial in Los Angeles federal court on charges he defrauded clients. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
In ruling, Gardephe rejected arguments by Avenatti's lawyers that litigation-related threats don't normally result in criminal charges against lawyers because litigation is inherently threatening and costly to all parties.
“The unusual feature of this case is that the Government alleges that Avenatti — using his client's confidential information — demanded millions of dollars for himself, without his client's knowledge, and to his client's detriment," Gardephe wrote.
Prosecutors say Avenatti last March met with Nike's lawyers in Manhattan, demanding $12 million immediately with a guaranteed total range of $15 million to $25 million in billings to conduct an internal probe of the shoemaker's dealings with amateur athletics.
They said Avenatti threatened otherwise to hold a news conference about the company's dealings with basketball recruits that would damage the value of the company's shares.
On Sunday, prosecutors wrote to the judge, asking him to limit what Avenatti's attorneys can tell a jury.
For instance, they say Avenatti's lawyers are wrong to suggest that Mark Geragos, a lawyer Avenatti hired to help him negotiate with Nike, never expressed concerns about Avenatti's actions.
They said Geragos told investigators that he was concerned Avenatti had crossed a line and had told Avenatti he was concerned and uncomfortable with the situation.
Prosecutors say Geragos did not attend a later meeting because of his discomfort. Avenatti was arrested when he showed up for it.
Prosecutors also want the judge to exclude evidence of specific purported misconduct by Nike and evidence that the charges are politically motivated or he was unfairly singled out.
The judge will rule on the requests at a later date.