Michael Avenatti’s efforts to redeem himself following a string of damaging episodes appeared to have reached an end Monday after authorities accused him of trying to extort between $15 and $25 million from sports apparel giant Nike.
The lawyer, who once represented adult-film star Stormy Daniels before she dropped him, was accused by federal prosecutors in New York of operating “an old-fashioned shakedown” following a sting operation.
Prosecutors claim Avenatti tried to extort Nike “by threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met.”
“As alleged, Michael Avenatti approached Nike last week with a list of financial demands in exchange for covering up allegations of misconduct on behalf of the company,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney Jr. said in a statement.
“The lofty price tag included a $1.5 million payoff for Avenatti’s client and upwards of tens of millions of dollars for the legal services of his firm – services Nike never requested. This is nothing more than a straightforward case of extortion”
On the same day as the Nike case, he was charged with wire fraud and bank fraud in a separate case out of California.
The latest lawsuits against Avenatti mark the end of attempts to rehabilitate his reputation in the public eye that included taking up high-profile cases like the one against R&B star R. Kelly in an effort to move away from the shadow of controversy and redeem himself as a lawyer who holds the powerful accountable.
But Avenatti continues to grapple with the fallout stemming from accusations of domestic violence, along with mounting legal and financial problems.
He first entered the spotlight in March of last year as Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, appearing on CNN and MSNBC hundreds of times in just two months, often on issues not related to the case.
He used the national spotlight as a springboard to build a following and openly float the possibility of running for president in 2020 as the Democratic candidate, starting a now-largely-defunct PAC. He even toured across the U.S., visiting early primary states such as New Hampshire and Iowa, raising speculation that he was actually serious about his run.
But then an avalanche of controversies hit the lawyer, who has maintained his innocence at all times while issuing increasingly conspiratorial claims that he was being targeted over his politics and opposition to Trump.
Avenatti was first hit with two criminal investigation referrals for his role in pushing the allegations against Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh, with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley directly accusing Avenatti of conspiring to provide false statements to Congress.
Those statements stem from his representing Julie Swetnick, who said Kavanaugh took part in “gang” and “train” rapes at parties in high school, allegations so outlandish that even Swetnick had to retract key claims – all while saying Avenatti “twisted” her words for publicity.
Then came the allegations of domestic violence in November, when actress Mareli Miniutti claimed Avenatti dragged her by the arm across the floor of his apartment after an argument.
Avenatti maintained his innocence and suggested politics were behind the accusations. Despite repeating such claims multiple times, he never produced evidence showing how his ex-girlfriend’s accusations were politically motivated.
Similarly, he suggested politics were behind the latest accusations in relation to the bank and wire fraud case in California, where he’s facing 50 years if convicted.
The fallout after the domestic violence accusations was immediate. Democratic groups, which apparently saw an opportunity in associating with the firebrand lawyer who could prove to be an effective anti-Trump messenger, began quickly breaking from him and canceled speaking invitations.
Shortly after that, Avenatti announced the end of his possible bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2020.
Authorities in Los Angeles opted out in February against formally charging the lawyer over the alleged abuse of the woman, though left a window open amid the hearings on the case.
At the same time, Avenatti was facing financial problems and accusations of illegally withholding settlement funds in a "Ponzi-like" scheme and then repeatedly lying about it.
Financial documents reviewed by Fox News showed that the funds pursuant to a settlement agreement were wired to an account designated by Avenatti while the lawyer continued to dodge the client’s questions about where the funds were.
The client, Gregory Barela, outlined the charges in a statement of claims against Avenatti filed with Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (JAMS), a private entity that, as opposed to a trial court, has jurisdiction over the complaint pursuant to the lawyer-client agreement between Barela and Avenatti.
The allegations in the statement, which were first reported by the Daily Beast, include that Barela relied on relatively modest "advances" of funds from Avenatti to make ends meet while he awaited the settlement funds.
Despite all the controversies, Avenatti remained defiant that he’ll overcome the challenges and come out on top, once again embraced by the media and higher echelons of the society.
But the latest charges in California and New York may have particularly struck a nerve. Avenatti sounded somewhat defeatist during a recent interview when he admitted that he’s “nervous” and “scared” about potentially being put behind bars.
“No, and any suggestion is absolutely absurd,” he told CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan when asked if he tried to extort money from the sports company.
“Nike knew, from the very first moment that I had any contact with Nike, that I was insisting that the truth about what Nike had done be disclosed to federal prosecutors and investigators,” he said on the network.
“The truth is, for years Nike and its executives have been funneling payments to amateur players, high school players and to their handlers and family members in an effort to get them to go to colleges that were Nike colleges and ultimately hopefully to the NBA so they can sign a shoe deal with Nike.”
Fox News’ Gregg Re contributed to this report.