California attorney Michael Avenatti hopes to show that charging Nike $25 million to probe corruption at the sportswear giant was a bargain rather than extortion, his lawyer told a judge Thursday.
Avenatti was seated and quiet as attorney Scott Srebnick asked that a trial for his outspoken client be postponed from November to January to give lawyers time to gather evidence to show he wasn’t doing anything illegal by asking Nike for between $15 million and $25 million.
Srebnick said at a Manhattan hearing he wants to subpoena Nike employees and others to prove Avenatti acted appropriately because Nike was among companies fueling bribes paid to NBA-bound college basketball players and their families to win their allegiance to schools and managers.
The bribe-paying basketball scandal was revealed by federal prosecutors in New York over the last two years at several trials. As a result, four assistant basketball coaches at major schools pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy charges and were among several men convicted in the case.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe told Srebnick to submit written arguments next week before he decides to what extent Avenatti’s lawyers can seek evidence and whether a trial scheduled for Nov. 12 can be postponed. Gardephe warned that the right to gather evidence is less in a criminal case than a civil case.
A Nike spokesman did not return a message seeking comment. In a statement last week, Nike said: “Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion.”
Avenatti was arrested this spring, when prosecutors said he demanded up to $25 million from Nike to conduct an internal probe of the company with a threat that he would otherwise go public with bad publicity about its dealings with college athletes.
Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to the extortion charges as well as an indictment charging him with failing to pay ex-client porn star Stormy Daniels several hundred thousand dollars she was owed from a book deal. He also has pleaded not guilty to criminal fraud charges in Los Angeles federal court.
Avenatti gained fame over the last two years for his representation of Daniels over a nondisclosure deal regarding Daniels’ claims that she had an affair with President Donald Trump.
He has feuded on social media with Trump and even suggested at one point that he might run for president himself.
A week ago, his lawyers argued in court papers that federal prosecutors on both coasts targeted him vindictively, in part because of his criticism of Trump and “his aggressive public persona.”
Prosecutors, who have declined to comment, are scheduled next month to respond in writing.
Avenatti, who spoke angrily about Trump and the Justice Department after a May Manhattan court hearing, was relaxed and lighthearted as he waited for a cab Thursday.
When one cab driver failed to respond as Avenatti waved at him, a smiling Avenatti quipped: “Must be a Trump supporter.”