US Supreme Court rebuffs lawyer Michael Avenatti’s bid to overturn Nike-related convictions

By Thomson Reuters May 28, 2024 | 8:43 AM

By John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Tuesday to hear a bid by imprisoned celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti to overturn his conviction for defrauding a client and extorting athletic wear company Nike in a case in which he was sentenced to 2-1/2 years.

The justices turned away Avenatti’s appeal after a lower court upheld his 2020 convictions in the case. Avenatti has been sentenced to 19 years in prison in three criminal cases and is incarcerated in California.

In another trial, Avenatti in 2022 was convicted of defrauding a separate client, porn star Stormy Daniels. That case was not at issue in the current appeal.

At the center of the Nike-related case was a threat, caught on an audio recording, that Avenatti made in 2019 to stain the athletic wear company’s reputation and hurt its stock price by exposing its alleged corrupt payments to families of college basketball prospects. Avenatti was heard threatening to “blow the lid” on Nike at a press conference unless it paid up to $25 million for him to conduct a probe, plus $1.5 million to his client, youth basketball coach Gary Franklin.

Prosecutors said Avenatti was looking to enrich himself and pay down heavy debts tied to his law firm and a recent divorce. He was convicted of extorting Nike and of committing “honest services fraud” against Franklin, in which someone in a position of authority deprives a client or constituent of his right to honest services. Avenatti was handed a 2-1/2 year prison sentence.

For his part, Franklin testified that he did not want an investigation and merely wanted Nike to resume sponsoring his team.

Nike has denied wrongdoing.

The Manhattan-based U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2023 rejected Avenatti’s appeal of his convictions, prompting his appeal to the Supreme Court.

Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not participate in the Supreme Court’s decision to deny the case. Avenatti was a lawyer for a woman who claimed before Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court that she witnessed alleged misconduct by Kavanaugh involving women decades earlier. Kavanaugh denied all the allegations.

Avenatti’s lawyers in a Supreme Court filing argued that the 1988 statute criminalizing honest services fraud is so vague that it violates the right of defendants to due process under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. They also urged the justices to take up the case to declare that settlement negotiations like Avenatti’s communications with Nike cannot give rise to criminal extortion charges.

President Joe Biden’s administration recommended that the justices decline Avenatti’s appeal.

Avenatti, 53, gained fame in 2018 while representing Daniels in litigation against then-U.S. President Donald Trump. He was convicted of defrauding Daniels out of a book contract and was sentenced in June 2022 to an additional 2-1/2 years behind bars. The 2nd Circuit upheld that conviction in March.

An attorney for Avenatti did not respond when asked if he would be appealing his conviction involving Daniels to the Supreme Court. Hush money paid to Daniels ahead of the 2016 U.S. election is at the heart of Trump’s criminal trial in a New York state court.

In December 2022, Avenatti was sentenced to 14 more years in prison after he pleaded guilty to cheating four other clients, including a paraplegic man, out of millions of dollars.

(Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham)