High-profile laywer Michael Avenatti has been arrested and charged with extortion for allegedly threatening to release damaging information about Nike if the athletic wear company did not pay him more than $20 million dollars.
CNN reports that Avenatti is facing federal charges of extortion and bank fraud after he allegedly tried to extort Nike out of millions of dollars, threatening to release damaging information about the company unless they paid him and an alleged co-conspirator, which NBC has identified as Mark Geragos.
Geragos is representing Jussie Smollett in his disorderly conduct case. The “Empire” actor is accused of orchestrating a hate crime against himself in Chicago.
According to the criminal complaint obtained by the news station, Avenatti told a Nike attorney that he would “go take $10 billion dollars off your client’s market cap … I’m not f***ing around.”
“And I’m not continuing to play games … You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem and it’s worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing.”
But it appears that Nike did not pony up, as Avenatti said on Twitter Monday morning that he would be holding a press conference the next day to reveal an alleged “college basketball scandal perpetrated by” Nike.
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.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) March 25, 2019
Within an hour or two of sending that tweet, Avenatti was reportedly arrested in New York.
As CNN reports, Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, gave a press conference Monday afternoon in which he said the extortion investigation began only a week ago, when Avenatti reportedly met with a Nike lawyer to let them know about the purportedly damaging information he said was given to him by a client.
“A suit and tie doesn’t mask the fact that at its core this was an old-fashioned shakedown” Berman reportedly said at the press conference.
Avenatti is also facing charges in California, where the Justice Department reportedly said in an announcement that Avenatti allegedly “embezzled a client’s money in order to pay his own expenses and debts — as well as those of his coffee business and law firm — and also defrauded a bank by using phony tax returns to obtain millions of dollars in loans.”
That client has not been identified.
A spokesperson for Nike released a statement obtained by CNN:
“Nike will not be extorted or hide information that is relevant to a government investigation. Nike has been cooperating with the government’s investigation into NCAA basketball for over a year. When Nike became aware of this matter, Nike immediately reported it to federal prosecutors. When Mr. Avenatti attempted to extort Nike over this matter, Nike with the assistance of outside counsel at Boies Schiller Flexner, aided the investigation. Nike firmly believes in ethical and fair play, both in business and sports, and will continue to assist the prosecutors.”
Avenatti could reportedly face up to 50 years in prison if he is convicted in both cases.
[Feature image: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan]