Nike: Avenatti wants to make it a villain at extortion trial

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NEW YORK (AP) — California attorney Michael Avenatti wants to portray Nike as a villain and himself a hero at his extortion trial later this month, the company said in a court filing made public Thursday.

The sportswear maker said in court papers that Avenatti’s attorneys want five Nike sports marketing employees to testify at the Manhattan federal court trial that starts with jury selection Jan. 22.

The company asked U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe in papers dated Tuesday but filed publicly Thursday to deny Avenatti’s request, saying the employees have no knowledge about the extortion and honest services fraud charges lodged against him. Gardephe directed Avenatti’s lawyers to respond by Monday.

Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to the charges and said he is being prosecuted unfairly by a U.S. Justice Department beholden to a president he has criticized on social media and in numerous television appearances.

He also has pleaded not guilty to charges he cheated ex-client porn star Stormy Daniels of proceeds of a book deal at a trial scheduled to start in April in New York and to ripping off clients of millions of dollars at a trial set to begin in May in Los Angeles.

Email messages were left with Avenatti and his lawyer. An attempt to reach Avenatti’s cellphone was unsuccessful.

Nike said Avenatti wants to “misdirect the jury” by getting Nike employees to testify about alleged misdeeds designed to influence young basketball players who might have a professional future.

“Mr. Avenatti would like to elicit the Nike Employees’ testimony to try to establish that Nike engaged in criminal conduct, and that Nike hid this criminal conduct from the Government while claiming to be cooperating,” Nike lawyers wrote.

“This narrative — which paints Nike as the villain and Mr. Avenatti as the hero — is false and illogical. It is false because Nike committed no crimes and fully cooperated,” the lawyers said.

Prosecutors say Avenatti threatened to muddy Nike’s name by publicizing allegations that the company was part of a scandal in college basketball in which shoe makers helped to fund payouts to basketball coaches and families to influence NBA-bound young athletes.

They allege that Avenatti tried to get Nike to pay him up to $25 million.

Nike said Avenatti wants to “drag the five” Nike employees across the country from the company’s Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters to testify at his trial, including the executive vice president of Nike Global Sports Marketing and the global vice president of Sports Marketing & Basketball.

The company said that the employees to varying degrees have knowledge of Nike’s sports marketing related to amateur basketball, but none of them “can offer testimony relevant to Mr. Avenatti’s extortion and fraud scheme.”

“They never spoke with Mr. Avenatti. They were not present for Mr. Avenatti’s threats,” the lawyers wrote.

Nike’s lawyers said Avenatti’s lawyers can elicit what they need from Nike attorneys who will testify at the trial.

They urged Avenatti’s lawyers to seek “that limited testimony — and not a fishing expedition into the minutiae of amateur basketball.”

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