Attorney Michael Avenatti arrives at federal court Monday, April 1, 2019, in Santa Ana, Calif. Avenatti appeared in federal court on charges he fraudulently obtained $4 million in bank loans and pocketed $1.6 million that belonged to a client.
Michael Avenatti said Nike “pulled a stunt” by having him arrested before he could go public with accusations that the retailer paid certain high school athletes to coax them into playing basketball at Nike-sponsored colleges.
Nike “has been covering up this scandal for over five years,” Avenatti told CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Monday. “They knew they could not control me. … They effectively had to shoot the messenger.”
Avenatti, who is now facing extortion charges, over the weekend dumped 41 pages of documents that he claims contain evidence showing Nike “bribed players” to attend certain Nike-sponsored schools. He also tweeted about Duke University’s star basketball player and slated-to-be No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, Zion Williamson, being involved in the “scandal.” Avenatti alleges Williamson’s mother accepted money for him to end up at Duke. The school has since said it’s “looking into” these claims.
This all comes after the attorney, who has gained widespread notoriety in the past year for representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen, was arrested and charged in New York last month for trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike by threatening to take his allegations public. At the same time, Avenatti was also separately charged in a second federal case in Los Angeles for embezzling a client’s money “in order to pay his own expenses and debts,” according to prosecutors.
Avenatti has denied he tried to shake down Nike. He was arrested in New York just 15 minutes after he tweeted he would be revealing a high school and college basketball scandal. Based on the charges in both cases against him, if convicted, Avenatti faces nearly 100 years in prison and potential disbarment as a lawyer.
Now, as the NCAA men’s Final Four basketball tournament comes to a close, Avenatti is still trying to take down Nike. He claims to have evidence that more than $170,000 has been paid out by the retailer to family members of basketball players, including the Phoenix Suns’ Deandre Ayton, former University of Nevada Las Vegas player Brandon McCoy and Oregon Ducks’ Bol Bol.
Nike over the weekend had said it “will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion and aid in his disgraceful attempts to distract from the athletes on the court at the height of the tournament.” And that it “will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”
Nike wasn’t immediately available to comment on Avenatti’s interview on CNBC on Monday afternoon.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.