- The celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti accused Nike of bribery in a series of tweets on Tuesday, one day after he was charged with trying to extort the company.
- On Twitter, Avenatti suggested that the case accusing him of attempting to extort more than $US20 million from Nike was an attempt to “divert attention” from the company’s “own crimes.”
- The lawyer said that the basketball players Deandre Ayton and Bol Bol or their “handlers” were paid by Nike’s youth basketball league.
The celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti on Tuesday accused Nike of trying to “divert attention” from what he said was a payment scandal involving Nike’s youth-basketball program and top college players.
On Tuesday morning, a day after the Department of Justice charged him with attempting to extort the company, Avenatti began a series of tweets by quoting a September 2017 CBS Sports report that said Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League had been served with a subpoena as part of a series of investigations into bribery in college basketball.
Avenatti resurfaced the report while suggesting that accusations from New York federal prosecutors that he attempted to extort more than $US20 million from Nike were an attempt at distraction.
“Contrary to Nike’s claims yesterday, they have NOT been cooperating with investigators for over a year,” he said. “Unless you count lying in response to subpoenas and withholding documents as ‘cooperating.’ They are trying to divert attention from their own crimes.”
Avenatti claimed in his tweets that the 20-year-old Phoenix Suns player DeAndre Ayton, who spent one year at the University of Arizona before joining the Suns last year as the NBA team’s top draft pick, was paid by Nike. “Ask DeAndre Ayton and Nike about the cash payments to his mother and others,” he wrote in one tweet.
Avenatti made accusations against Oregon Ducks center Bol Bol as well, writing: “Bol Bol and his handlers also received large sums from Nike. The receipts are clear as day.”
“A lot of people at Nike will have to account for their criminal conduct, starting with Carlton DeBose & moving higher up,” he continued. “The diversion charade they orchestrated against me will be exposed.”
In October, two Adidas officials and an agent were found guilty in federal court of wire fraud in a similarly constructed scandal, which saw college recruits receiving payments from the company as an incentive to attend schools whose teams were sponsored by the company.
On Monday, Avenatti had tweeted that he would reveal a “major high school/college basketball scandal.”
Prosecutors from the Southern District of New York said in charging documents released shortly after the tweet, however, that Avenatti tried to get money by “threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial & reputational harm” on Nike.
In a court filing, an FBI agent wrote that Avenatti said he would hold a press conference alleging misconduct by Nike unless he and another lawyer were paid $US15 million to $US25 million to conduct an internal investigation or were given $US22.5 million to resolve their client’s claims and in exchange for their silence.
“Full confidentiality, we ride off into the sunset,” the FBI agent says Avenatti told a Nike representative.
Avenatti was arrested and released Monday on $US300,000 bond. In a press conference after his release, Avenatti said he expected to be “fully exonerated.”
Sonam Sheth contributed reporting.
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