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Arrested Trump foe Avenatti must face 'vindictive' Nike extortion case in NY

Credit: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected Michael Avenatti's bid to dismiss criminal charges accusing him of trying to extort Nike Inc, after the celebrity lawyer claimed he was targeted in a "vindictive" prosecution because of his feud with U.S. President Donald Trump.

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, Jan 15 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday rejected Michael Avenatti's bid to dismiss criminal charges accusing him of trying to extort Nike Inc NKE.N, after the celebrity lawyer claimed he was targeted in a "vindictive" prosecution because of his feud with U.S. President Donald Trump.

U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan ruled the morning after Avenatti was arrested in California for potential violations of his bail conditions, in a separate case there accusing him of defrauding other clients.

Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to all criminal charges he faces.

Lawyers for Avenatti told Gardephe on Wednesday their client is in custody, possibly in a Santa Ana, California jail, and California prosecutors plan to seek to revoke his bail at a hearing today.

The lawyers also said they likely will not be able to meet with Avenatti in person for at least several days, and asked to discuss delaying the scheduled Jan. 21 trial in the Nike case.

Avenatti, 48, is known for publicly feuding with Trump and representing porn actress Stormy Daniels, who received hush money before the 2016 presidential election not to reveal an alleged sexual encounter with the president, which Trump denies.

In the Nike case, prosecutors said Avenatti threatened to publicize claims by his client, a youth basketball coach, that Nike made improper payments to families of college basketball recruits, unless Nike paid him $15 million to $25 million to conduct a probe, plus $1.5 million to the coach.

Avenatti said the case was in part payback for the animosity between him and Trump, who once tweeted that Avenatti was "a third rate lawyer who is good at making false accusations," and that no "John Doe" lawyer would have been similarly charged.

But the judge found no evidence that the prosecution was brought maliciously or at Trump's behest, noting that it was Nike that alerted prosecutors to the alleged extortion.

"Avenatti is being prosecuted for activities wholly unrelated to the political arena," Gardephe wrote.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan declined to comment. The office of U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna in Los Angeles had no immediate comment.

In the California case, where he faces a potential 335 years in prison, Avenatti was also charged with lying to the Internal Revenue Service, committing bank fraud, and falsely testifying in a bankruptcy case involving his former law firm.

He was also charged in Manhattan with stealing nearly $300,000 from Daniels, representing proceeds from her book contract.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

((jon.stempel@thomsonreuters.com; +1 646 223 6317; Reuters Messaging: jon.stempel.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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