Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti was arrested Monday for allegedly attempting to extort nearly $25 million from Nike. Avenatti purportedly threatened to financially hurt the athletic apparel giant with negative publicity.
Avenatti is also being charged in a separate federal case, in which he is accused of embezzling a client’s money “in order to pay his own expense and debts,” and “defrauding a bank in Mississippi,” prosecutors said.
Avenatti was caught in Midtown Manhattan at approximately 12:30 p.m. by FBI agents, which is 15 minutes after he tweeted that he would be disclosing a big high school and college basketball scandal “perpetrated by” Nike that he supposedly uncovered.
“Tmrw at 11 am ET, we will be holding a press conference to disclose a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated by @Nike that we have uncovered. This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball,” Avenatti tweeted.
There will be a press conference in Los Angeles Monday afternoon to discuss the charges against Mr. Avenatti. He is expected in federal court on Monday.
“A lawyer has a basic duty not to steal from his client,” said U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles Nick Hanna. “Mr. Avenatti is facing serious criminal charges alleging he misappropriated client trust funds for his personal use and he defrauded a bank by submitting phony tax returns in order to obtain millions of dollars in loans.”
According to a criminal complaint filed in New York, Avenatti”devised a scheme to extort a company by means of an interstate communication by threatening to damage the company’s reputation if the company did not agree to make multi-million dollar payments to Avenatti and [co-conspirator], and further agree to pay an additional $1.5 million to a client of Avenatti’s.”
Avenatti and a cooperating witness spoke by phone with lawyers for Nike last Wednesday, in which Avenatti stated that if his demands were not met he would “take ten billion dollars” off Nike’s client’s market cap. “I’m not f—ing around,” he said. Meanwhile, Nike had no immediate comment.
In yet another case, Avenatti is accused of negotiating a $1.6 million settlement for a client in a civil case, but then giving the client “a bogus settlement agreement with a false payment date of March 10, 2018,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles. According to that office, Avenatti “misappropriated his client’s settlement money and used it to pay expenses for his coffee business.”
“When the fake March 2018 deadline passed and the client asked where the money was, Avenatti continued to conceal that the payment had already been received, court documents said,” according to prosecutors.
“Avenatti also allegedly defrauded a bank in Mississippi by submitting to the lender false tax returns in order to obtain three loans totaling $4.1 million for his law firm and coffee business in 2014,” the L.A. U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
“According to the affidavit, Avenatti obtained the loans by submitting fabricated individual income tax returns (Forms 1040) for 2011, 2012, and 2013, reporting substantial income even though he had never filed any such returns with the Internal Revenue Service,” the prosecutor’s office said. “The phony returns stated that he earned $4,562,881 in adjusted gross income in 2011, $5,423,099 in 2012, and $4,082,803 in 2013, according to the affidavit. Avenatti allegedly also claimed he paid $1.6 million in estimated tax payments to the IRS in 2012 and paid $1.25 million in 2013.”
“In reality, Avenatti never filed personal income tax returns for 2011, 2012 and 2013 and did not make any estimated tax payments in 2012 and 2013. Instead of the millions of dollars he claimed to have paid in taxes, Avenatti still owed the IRS $850,438 in unpaid personal income tax plus interest and penalties for the tax years 2009 and 2010,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “Avenatti also submitted a fictitious partnership tax return for his law firm.”