Michael Avenatti is guilty on all three counts he was facing, according to a decision by a jury in federal court in New York on Friday.
Prosecutors said the lawyer threatened to publicly accuse athletic apparel maker Nike of illicitly paying amateur basketball players unless the company paid him millions of dollars.
The government said Avenatti also betrayed his client, a youth basketball coach who made the allegations against Nike, by advocating for money for himself instead of the client.
Avenatti was charged with transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, attempted extortion and honest services wire fraud.
His sentencing is scheduled for June 17 at 4 p.m., though the date could change, according to the judge.
Avenatti made the sign of the cross prior to the verdict being read, stared at the jury and looked down at the table. He told the lawyers, “Great job, you guys,” and hugged one of them as he was led away to a backroom. He was not handcuffed.
“Of course there will be an appeal,” Scott Srebnick, Avenatti’s lead defense attorney, told CNN.
Srebnick said he was going to meet with Avenatti before his client was taken to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he’s been in custody throughout the trial.
Avenatti still faces two additional trials for allegedly stealing Stormy Daniels’ book advance and committing fraud in California. He is being held in jail for allegedly violating the terms of his bail in the California case.
Gary Franklin, the youth basketball coach who Michael Avenatti represented, testified last week that he was bullied by Nike executives who forced him to make the illicit payments to top high school basketball players and their families. In 2018, the company ended its sponsorship of Franklin’s program, the California Supreme.
Franklin said he wanted Avenatti to get Nike to renew his team’s sponsorship and get two Nike executives fired.
Avenatti was in “crushing debt” at the time and wanted to use Franklin’s case to make money, prosecutors said. The high-powered attorney saw Franklin as a “meal ticket,” they argued.
Nike lawyers who took the stand during the trial said Avenatti told them he would hold a press conference claiming the company illegally paid players. In exchange for not going public, Avenatti told the lawyers in one meeting Nike would have to pay Franklin $1.5 million for any claims he had and immediately pay Avenatti and another attorney $12 million, and guarantee $15 to $25 million in payments for an internal investigation, prosecutors said.
Benjamin Homes, an associate attorney for Nike’s outside law firm who took notes during several of the meetings with Avenatti, testified that it “evolved into really a shakedown.”
Franklin testified he was shocked to find out Avenatti was planning a press conference.
Avenatti’s attorneys have denied he committed any criminal acts because he was acting on behalf of his client who could legally make demands if they related to his claim. They argued Franklin and his friend, Jeffrey Auerbach, have changed their stories since Avenatti was arrested.
Citing previous testimony and text messages between Auerbach and Franklin, defense attorneys said the two men were after “justice” and hired “Avenatti to be Avenatti” to get it. They had looked up firms that had “successfully sued Nike” and said it was time to “go after Nike,” defense attorney Scott Srebnick said in closing arguments.
Auerbach also researched a jury verdict Avenatti won that totaled more than $400 million, and Auerbach and Franklin allegedly told Avenatti “do it your way” after hiring him, Srebnick said.
Franklin said he wanted to root out corruption, and Avenatti was on a mission, defense attorneys argued.
“The only way to root out corruption, the only way to dismiss employees for corruption is an internal investigation,” Howard Srebnick, another defense attorney, said. “He was on a mission for his client. He was on a mission to achieve the goals of his client, and again he would be paid along the way.”
Nike issued this statement after Avenatti was found guilty: “The verdict speaks volumes. We thank the jurors for their time and service which is the bedrock of the American judicial system.”
US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman issued this statement: “While the defendant may have tried to hide behind legal terms and a suit and tie,” the statement said, “the jury clearly saw the defendant’s scheme for what it was — an old fashioned shakedown.”
By Aaron Cooper and Darran Simon, CNN