NEW YORK (AP) — A Los Angeles amateur basketball league’s founder told jurors Thursday that Michael Avenatti betrayed him when the lawyer threatened to make his complaints against Nike public.
Avenatti is standing trial in New York on charges that he tried to extort millions of dollars from the sportswear giant as he represented Gary Franklin, founder of the California Supreme league.
Franklin testified in Manhattan federal court that he hoped Avenatti would quietly negotiate a settlement with Nike that would restore his league’s decade-long $72,000 annual Nike sponsorship, which included thousands of dollars more in basketball-related gear. He also expected Avenatti to get him $1 million restitution and report bullying and possibly illegal behavior by two Nike executives.
Instead, he said, Avenatti did things he never expected, like threatening to stage a news conference to reveal bad acts by the Nike executives and by trying to secure up to $25 million, so Avenatti and another lawyer could conduct an internal probe of Nike.
Franklin said he worried that public exposure of his complaints would spoil his relationship with Nike, harm young basketball players, ruin his league and his reputation. Since he lost the sponsorship in 2018, the size of the league and number of players had fallen.
Prosecutors say Avenatti, the California attorney who gained fame through his representation of porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, instead looked out for himself. Avenatti says he did nothing wrong and was merely engaging in a typical negotiation with Nike.
“Scary” was how Franklin described a tweet Avenatti sent last March 21 suggesting that a scandal that had resulted in the arrests of four assistant basketball coaches at major college programs was “likely far far broader than imagined.”
“Scared, upset, confused” was how Franklin said he reacted to Avenatti telling him that he was “going to go public” with what he knew about Nike executives.
As Franklin spoke, Avenatti captured the eyes of some jurors with pronounced reactions to the testimony.
At times, Avenatti laughed, grimaced, looked skyward, smiled, pushed back in his chair or shook his head in gestures that seemed to attack his former client’s credibility.
The antics came as the witness sometimes struggled with questions, asking for them to be repeated or saying he didn’t remember documents or exactly what happened.
Two days earlier, Avenatti had apologized — out of the presence of the jury — after prosecutors complained to U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe that he was talking so loudly that jurors might hear his complaint about a witness.
Avenatti also has often positioned himself directly opposite jurors, something that is possible because half of the defense table faces the judge and half is turned to face the jury.
Earlier in the day, Judy K. Regnier, the former office manager at Avenatti’s law office, testified that the firm’s three lawyers and several employees were working from their homes last March after the firm was evicted four months earlier for failing to pay its roughly $50,000 monthly rent.
She said Avenatti told her last March that he was “working on something that could provide a way to clear the debt and start a new firm.”
Regnier said he mentioned something about an in-house, internal investigation and it seemed “kind of like he saw the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Prosecutors have sought to show jurors that Avenatti was seeking between $15 million and $25 million from Nike to clear away his debts.
After Regnier testified, a prosecutor read aloud a stipulation that listed nearly $11 million in financial judgments against Avenatti.