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Prosecutors say the New York lawyer tried to extort money from Nike amid pay-to-play scandal.

THE CIRCUS - Michael Avenatti, right, was arrested on Monday following charges he tried to extort money from Nike.It's not often that high-profile attorney Michael Avenatti and Washington County make headlines together, but federal prosecutors have arrested the celebrity attorney on charges he tried to extort millions of dollars from shoemaker Nike earlier this month.

Avenatti was arrested Monday, March 25, on two sets of federal charges in New York and California. According to prosecutors, Avenatti attempted to extort millions from Nike, and in a seperate case is alleged to have embezzled money and defrauded a bank.

Nike, one of Oregon's most well-known companies, is based outside of Beaverton in unincorporated Washington County, but has several offices in the Tanasbourne area of Hillsboro. The company maintains a hangar at Hillsboro Airport and is a powerhouse in the global sportswear market.

Avenatti is charged with four counts of extortion and conspiracy related to the Nike charges.

Avenatti rose to national attention after he defended adult film actress Stephanie Clifford — who performs under the name Stormy Daniels — in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, whom Clifford claimed to have had an affair with. Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen has confessed to paying Clifford $130,000 to keep her quiet about the affair.

Avenatti rose to celebrity status while representing Clifford. He appeared on talk shows, gained a prominent social media following and even considered a presidential run on the Democratic ticket last year.

But prosecutors say he was also working to line his own pockets in a case involving Nike.

Prosecutors claim Avenatti tried to extort as much as $20 million in hush-money from the company. He allegedly threatened to go public with allegations the company was involved in a scandal involving paying high school athletes to play for Nike-sponsored teams.

A similar scandal involving the Adidas shoe company was exposed by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York two years ago. The company allegedly gave money to players who committed to play basketball at Adidas-sponsored universities.

Avenatti was working with the coach of a Nike-sponsored amateur basketball team, and allegedly told Nike attorneys in New York that at least one Nike employee had given money to high school basketball players. Prosecutors say Avenatti demanded $1.5 million for the unnamed client and another $15 to $20 million for himself and another attorney to conduct an "internal investigation" of the company.

The company would be able to "self-report" any possible misconduct, according to court documents.

Avenatti threatened to hold a press conference about the alleged scandal the day before Nike was expected to release its quarterly earnings, which could have hurt the company's brand.

Nike attorneys contacted federal authorities about the demands, court documents said. According to prosecutors, Nike's attorneys were able to get taped phone calls between Avenatti and Nike, and met in person with Avenatti to discuss the details of the scheme.

"I'm not f---ing around with this, and I'm not continuing to play games," Avenatti is alleged to have said in one of the recorded phone calls. "You guys know enough now to know you've got a serious problem. And it's worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing. A few million dollars doesn't move the needle for me. I'm just being really frank with you. So if … that's what's being contemplated, then let's just say it was good to meet you, and we're done. And I'll proceed with my press conference tomorrow …. I'm not f---ing around with this thing anymore."

In a statement released Monday, Nike said it "will not be extorted."

"Nike has been cooperating with the government's investigation into NCAA basketball for over a year," the company said. "When Nike became aware of this matter, Nike immediately reported it to federal prosecutors. When Mr. Avenatti attempted to extort Nike over this matter, Nike with the assistance of outside counsel at Boies Schiller Flexner, aided the investigation. Nike firmly believes in ethical and fair play, both in business and sports, and will continue to assist the prosecutors."

In a statement to the press on Monday, Avenatti said he believed he would be "fully exonerated" once more facts come to light in the case.

"For the entirety of my career I have fought against the powerful," Avenatti said. "Both powerful people and powerful corporations. I will never stop fighting that good fight."


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