Like Icarus, “trial lawyer” Michael Avenatti, plummeted from the sky. This fallen media darling, smut star Stormy Daniels’ former lawyer, and Trump’s Antagonist in Chief was released from federal detention on a personal recognizance bond after his stunning arrest in Manhattan. He may be momentarily free, but the attorney is still staring down the barrel of fifty years federal prison time. I predict he will quickly and quietly roll on his alleged co-conspirator, famed Los Angeles based criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos in an attempt obtain a reasonable prison sentence. But, make no mistake, the man who once sought to replace Donald Trump as the next President of these United States is ruined and finished.
Avenatti is alleged to have engaged in a “shakedown” of Nike by US Attorney Geoffrey Berman. Although the Feds concede he sought $1.5 million for a client (identified as a coach of a California based “amateur athletic union”), they are claiming he, along with an as yet unidentified accomplice suggested by media sources to be Geragos, are asserted to have sought an additional $15-25 million from the company to conduct an internal investigation and audit to identify and expose the alleged corruption within the sportswear and athletic shoe global juggernaut.
The lawyer was arrested at the New York City office of Nike’s lawyers, Boies Schiller Flexner, moments after tweeting his intention to expose alleged corruption at Nike. This concerns me. Boies Schiller is an extremely “D.C. connected” and powerful law firm. Unlike local law enforcement agencies, the Feds tend to take their time and construct a seemingly airtight case before slapping hand cuffs on a suspect. This arrest seemed time to prevent the release of information that threatened the fabled and revered Beaverton, Oregon based apparel manufacturer. And, as an attorney myself, I am always alarmed when the government appears to modify its standard course of action for the powerful.
More importantly, while I readily concede the salaciousness of the click worthy “Nike Blackmail” headlines, I do not think this case has sea legs. Avenatti was representing a client. Where there is smoke, there tends to be a fire. And, in the wake of the Adidas/college basketball scandals and arrests, there is a significant possibility that the lawyer had exposed similar corruption at the company that had my mother refusing to buy me Air Jordans in 1986. The argument in Avenatti’s defense would be simple to frame to a liberal NYC jury: “I was only zealously representing my client’s interests, seeking to gain compensation for damages he suffered and offering to provide Nike with my years of legal investigative prowess at price that may sound unreasonable to a layperson but was an extremely reasonable and fair offer to identify corruption at a multinational, multi-billion dollar company. I was, most obviously, targeted for arrest by Trump’s Justice Department as payback for my fight to expose his graft and corruption. But I will always speak truth to power.”
Easy enough to articulate, but not what I anticipate to happen. Lost in many of the headlines are Federal charges in the Golden State for bank and wire fraud. Michael will appear in Federal court in the coming weeks in Los Angeles as a result of the 197 page complaint filed by US Attorney Nick Hanna. This investigation does not seem rushed, as evidenced by the detailed minutia in the lengthy filing, the government has taken the time necessary to construct a frighteningly strong case against him.
In California, the “porn lawyer” stands accused of falsifying and presenting personal tax returns for 2011, 2012, and 2013 alleging almost $14 million in income and millions paid in income taxes to a bank to secure $4.1 million in loans for personal and business use. The reality is he has yet to file or pay income taxes for those years and continues to owe more than $850,000.00 in taxes and penalties for tax years 2009 and 2010. The strength of this case for the US Attorney’s Office is it’s simplicity: either he filed and paid these taxes or he did not. But this case is not the one that will put him away for decades either. It is serious, it is strong, he appears very guilty, but it can be explained: “When completing the loan application, I was in the process of filing those taxes, the tax forms are accurate in that they correctly identify my income and taxes owed, I just failed to file in a prompt manner. I’m so sorry. I never meant to defraud anyone.”
But the wire fraud case is both the least noticed and the one that will have the Summa Cum Laude graduate of George Washington University Law School in prison for at least a decade. A precipitous fall to cold metal bunk, not likely what he envisioned from his undergraduate Ivy League dormitory bunk at Penn. US Attorney Hanna alleges that Michael accepted a $1.6 million settlement for a client and then misappropriated the funds for personal use while misrepresenting the availability of the settlement proceeds to the client. In a nutshell, he stole his client’s money. The absolute worst sin a lawyer can commit within the scope of his practice. Unforgivable and disgusting. Despite claiming upon his release from the clink that he “will never stop fighting the good fight” it appears that Michael is nothing more than a common con man and thief. It is the strength of this case that leads me to posit that he will use his only bargaining chip that remains, snitching on his colleague and fellow legal spotlight addict Mark Geragos in the tenuous Nike complaint, in an attempt to lessen the severity of his penal consequence.
It is very telling that his post release tweet proclaiming his innocence wholly ignored the California complaint:
"I want to thank all of my supporters for your kind words and support today. It means a lot to me. I am anxious for people to see what really happened. We never attempted to extort Nike & when the evidence is disclosed, the public will learn the truth about Nike's crime & coverup."
Like Icarus, Avenatti got too caught up basking in the light, it all fell apart and he is now drowning in a sea of his own hubris.
If you want to hear more of my thoughts on this case, click the link below to my March 25 episode of the Night Shift: