On Wednesday, federal prosecutors hit embattled lawyer Michael Avenatti with one count of honest services fraud, accusing him of lying to a client while trying to extort Nike.
Along with the new charge, federal prosecutors dropped separate extortion and fraud charges that were made public in March, Reuters reported.
“I am extremely pleased that the two counts alleging I engaged in a conspiracy against Nike have just been dismissed by Trump’s DOJ,” Avenatti tweeted in response.
I am extremely pleased that the two counts alleging I engaged in a conspiracy against Nike have just been dismissed by Trump’s DOJ. I expect to be fully exonerated when it is all said and done.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) November 13, 2019
He told Reuters, “It is obvious the government’s case is falling apart, it should never have been filed.”
Earlier this year, Avenatti allegedly “threatened to release damaging information” relayed to him by one of his clients, a club basketball coach, who claimed Nike paid elite college basketball recruits.
“I’ll go take $10 billion off your client’s market cap … I’m not f—ing around,” he reportedly told Nike lawyers during a conference call, according to the New York Post.
Avenatti allegedly demanded the company pay his client, Gary Franklin Sr., $1.5 million and himself over $20 million.
According to Reuters, the new indictment claims that Avenatti defrauded the coach by using the case for his own benefit even though Nike had agreed to pay his client to settle it.
“Mr. Avenatti is being charged with a speech crime,” Avenatti attorneys Scott Srebnick and Jose Quinon wrote in an August filing that attempted to persuade a judge to toss the extortion charges.
“Every one of the acts of speech attributed to Mr. Avenatti in the indictment was independently lawful and independently protected by the First Amendment,” they wrote. “He had the right to publicly expose truthful information about Nike’s misconduct.”
Mark Geragos was listed as Avenatti’s co-conspirator in the original court documents, but he has since been cleared, the New York Daily News reported.
A trial on the new charges is set for January.
In separate cases, Avenatti is also facing charges in New York and Los Angeles for allegedly defrauding clients, including adult film star Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels.
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