Michael Avenatti, the high-profile attorney and critic of President Trump, was arrested Monday and charged by federal prosecutors with trying to extort Nike by threatening to level damaging allegations against the athletic apparel company unless it paid him and his client millions.
Simultaneously, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles filed separate charges accusing Avenatti of wire fraud and bank fraud, saying he for allegedly taking a client’s settlement money and using it to pay expenses for Avenatti’s coffee business. Avenatti allegedly concealed from the client what he had done with the money.
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said Avenatti dressed up his alleged extortionate demands as legal negotiations, but that doing so violated the law.
“A suit and tie does not mask the fact that, at its core, this was an old-fashioned shakedown,” said Berman. “When lawyers use their law licenses as weapons, as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys, they are acting as criminals.”
FBI officials said Avenatti was arrested in Manhattan on Monday as he arrived at an expected meeting with lawyers for Nike.