It looks like America’s favorite “creepy porn lawyer” just caught the legal break of a lifetime.
Lawyers representing celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti are pressing the judge in his federal extortion case to allow them to subpoena Nike lawyers who allegedly mocked the FBI in a string of text messages.
This isn’t the first hiccup in the Avenatti prosecution: Back in November, the Feds added an additional count of wire fraud, but were forced to drop 2 conspiracy charges that were widely seen as the crux of Nike’s case.
Avenatti gained a national profile thanks to his representation of former porn star Stormy Daniels, who published a book about her life that largely focused on a brief fling she allegedly had with President Trump. Avenatti was indicted last year for allegedly trying to extort Nike, the world’s largest manufacturer of sportswear, out of as much as $25 million after he uncovered what he described as ‘corrupt’ payments to youth basketball players.
News of his indictment broke just minutes after he tweeted about plans to hold a press conference implicating Nike in an undescribed scandal. During a conversation with Nike lawyers that was taped for the Feds, Avenatti allegedly said that his revelations could wipe as much as $1 billion off of Nike’s market cap.
But Avenatti’s lawyers are saying the text messages, apparently uncovered in what appears to be a lengthy discovery process, suggest Nike wasn’t serious about aiding the government, and was merely trying to kneecap an adversary. Avenatti is saying that the company tried to incriminate him to stop him from blowing the whistle.
“Nike’s contempt for the government’s investigation of its conduct is readily apparent from documents viewed by the defense for the first time just yesterday,” Avenatti’s lawyer Scott Srebnick said in the filing. “For instance, right in the middle of the FBI investigation, on April 11, 2018, two of the subpoenaed Nike executives were sending each other texts cursing at the FBI and pejoratively ridiculing the investigation.”
“Nike was motivated to (belatedly) self-report to those same prosecutors and point the finger elsewhere in order to curry favor with them,” according to the filing.
Unfortunately, the exact text of the messages that Avenatti’s lawyers are citing hasn’t been made public, and the names of the correspondents have not been revealed.
US District Judge Paul Gardephe is weighing Avenatti’s request to subpoena the executives before his trial, which starts Jan. 21 in Manhattan.
Nike said in a statement to Bloomberg that it “will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion. Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”
This definitely looks good for Avenatti. But before you get all excited about the possibility that he might get back in the ring for the 2020 primary, remember: even if this case is eventually thrown out, he’s still facing separate charges that he tried to bilk a client out of settlement money.