Michael Avenatti was $15M in debt when he sought $25M from Nike in extortion plot: prosecutors

California attorney Michael Avenatti was deeply in debt, owing money to former clients, former law partners and two ex-wives – for alimony and child support -- when he tried to extort $25 million from sports apparel giant Nike, federal prosecutors claim.

The lawyer who became a national figure when he represented porn actress and stripper Stormy Daniels in her case against President Trump was in arrears to the tune of “conservatively, in excess of $15 million,” the authorities assert in court papers filed late Christmas Eve in New York City.

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Avenatti denied the claims Wednesday when contacted by The Associated Press.

“Any claim that I was $15 million in debt is ridiculous, absurd and laughable,” the 48-year-old attorney said. “I look forward to the upcoming trial at which time I will be exonerated and the truth will be known.”

“Any claim that I was $15 million in debt is ridiculous, absurd and laughable. I look forward to the upcoming trial at which time I will be exonerated and the truth will be known.”

— Michael Avenatti
Attorney Michael Avenatti speaks outside court in New York City, Dec. 12, 2018. (Associated Press)

Attorney Michael Avenatti speaks outside court in New York City, Dec. 12, 2018. (Associated Press)

The case is the first of three scheduled trials the embattled Avenatti will face over the next five months. In each case, he has denied all the charges against him.

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Lawyers for Avenatti claim he was seeking $15 million to $20 million from Nike to conduct an internal investigation into the company following allegations linking it to improper payments to high school athletes and coaches, the AP reported.

Avenatti’s lawyers claim that Nike’s legal team expressed interest in such a probe, which can cost companies more than $100 million, according to a New York Times story that Avenatti’s lawyers cite in their court documents.

Avenatti also plans to argue that Nike, facing federal scrutiny over the possible improper payments to athletes, had motivation to aid authorities as they also targeted someone “against whom the leader of the Executive Branch had expressed disdain.”

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Before Avenatti and Daniels ended their lawyer-client association in March, Avenatti and Trump frequently traded accusations against one another in public statements. Avenatti had represented Daniels (aka Stephanie Clifford) in connection with her claim of a past extramarital affair with Trump, a claim that the president has denied.

In addition to the Nike case, Avenatti faces an April trial over allegations that he stole $300,000 from Daniels, and a May trial over allegations that he stole millions from clients to pay personal and business expenses and lied to the IRS and a Mississippi bank about his financial history.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.