By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) – A U.S. jury on Friday found Michael Avenatti guilty in a criminal trial accusing the celebrity lawyer of trying to extort Nike Inc (NYSE:) out of millions of dollars and defraud a youth basketball coach he represented.
The brash lawyer was all but unknown until two years ago when he began representing the adult film actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against U.S. President Donald Trump and making hundreds of television appearances.
Avenatti’s sentencing was scheduled for June 17. He could face more than 40 years in prison.
Jurors deliberated for 2-1/2 days in deciding whether Avenatti tried to shake down Nike by threatening to publicize allegations the sports apparel company made illegal payments to families of college basketball recruits. Nike has denied wrongdoing.
Prosecutors said Avenatti, 48, threatened Nike with a press conference to publicize the payments and take several billion of dollars off its market value, unless it paid him and another lawyer up to $25 million to conduct an internal probe, and paid the coach $1.5 million.
Avenatti, who prosecutors said wanted a big payday to help cover at least $11 million of debts, was also charged with defrauding his client Gary Franklin by not telling him he was demanding a probe before agreeing to settle.
Franklin testified he did not want a probe or press conference, preferring a quiet settlement.
He acknowledged having hired Avenatti after seeing him rise to prominence while representing Daniels.
Avenatti’s lawyers argued their client had acted in good faith and did exactly what Franklin wanted in demanding a probe and threatening publicity that could expose Nike’s alleged corruption, and harm its reputation and stock price.
Avenatti also faces scheduled trials this spring in Manhattan for allegedly defrauding Daniels out of proceeds from a book contract, and in California for allegedly defrauding several other clients and lying to the Internal Revenue Service.
Avenatti did not testify in the Nike case, after his judge said prosecutors could question him about his dealings with other clients, without mentioning the criminal charges.
The defendant has been jailed in Manhattan since Jan. 17, after California prosecutors said he violated bail conditions.
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