Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who represented adult film star Stormy Daniels in her legal battles with U.S. President Donald Trump, was charged Monday with extortion in what prosecutors called an attempt to “shake down” Nike Inc for over $20 million.

Avenatti, who was also hit with separate federal charges alleging embezzlement and fraud in California, was arrested in New York and was expected to appear in federal court late in the day.

Avenatti, who lives in Los Angeles, could not be reached for comment.

Prosecutors said Avenatti and another lawyer, who was not named in court papers, met with Nike’s attorneys on March 19 and said they had a client, a former amateur athletic coach, who had evidence that Nike employees had bribed top high school players to play for Nike-sponsored teams.

The unnamed co-conspirator is the well-known defense lawyer and CNN contributor Mark Geragos, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources. Geragos did not respond to a request for comment.

Avenatti told Nike he would go public unless it paid his client $1.5 million and hired him and the other lawyer to conduct an internal investigation for between $15 million and $25 million, according to the complaint. Avenatti also offered to accept a $22.5 million payment for his silence, prosecutors said.

A former executive at Nike rival Adidas was recently convicted in federal court in Manhattan of participating in a similar scheme, part of a sweeping probe by prosecutors of corruption surrounding the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The case, which is ongoing, has ensnared several prominent basketball coaches.

In one call, Avenatti threatened, “I’ll go take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap... I’m not fucking around,” according to the complaint.

Geragos, who has represented celebrities like Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder, is currently defending the actor Jussie Smollett, who is charged with falsely reporting that he was the victim of a racially motivated attack in Chicago.

A CNN spokeswoman said on Monday that the network had dropped Geragos as a contributor.


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Xinhua 23 Jul 2019 11:36 CEST

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