Michael Avenatti became a familiar face on television screens in Louisiana and around the country in 2018 when he filed lawsuits against President Trump and attorney Michael Cohen on behalf of adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Daniels has since fired Avenatti, and the 48-year-old litigator's fortunes took another turn for the worse on March 25 when he was taken into custody in New York on extortion charges and charged in Los Angeles with embezzlement. The beleaguered attorney faces up to 100 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
According to federal prosecutors, Avenatti attempted to extort between $15 and $25 million from the sports apparel company Nike. Avenatti is alleged to have threatened to use his public profile to take billions off Nike's stock market value by accusing the company of paying amateur basketball players in violation of NCAA rules. Avenatti and an unindicted co-conspirator are said to have told Nike that they would remain quiet only if they were paid millions for unwanted legal work.
In a separate and unconnected case, Avenatti was charged in California with multiple counts of embezzlement and fraud. Prosecutors say that he used a client's settlement fund to cover his personal expenses and debts owed by his struggling coffee company. He is also accused of defrauding a Mississippi bank by using false tax returns to qualify for loans worth millions of dollars.
Most cases involving white-collar crime charges develop far more slowly than the Avenatti investigation in New York, and federal prosecutors generally wait until they have compelling evidence before they take individuals into custody and issue indictments. This is why it is important for individuals who believe they may be the target of such an investigation to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who could evaluate the legal situation and seek to ensure that police officers and federal agents operate within constitutional boundaries.