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Michael Avenatti blames arrest on 'vindictive' prosecutors

By LARRY NEUMEISTER

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) Lawyer Michael Avenatti wants a judge to dismiss criminal charges that he extorted Nike, and he is blaming his arrest on what he calls vindictive prosecutors as he releases material his attorneys say support his claims the sportswear company was paying amateur athletes.

Avenatti's attorneys filed papers Wednesday in Manhattan federal court, saying the lawyer who gained fame by representing porn star Stormy Daniels and by sparring on social media with President Donald Trump is being unfairly targeted by the Justice Department.

The lawyers wrote that Avenatti was facing criminal charges in part because of "his aggressive public persona, long feud with President Trump, and brief entanglement with" New York prosecutors who blamed him for spoiling a planned meeting with Daniels last year in their probe of ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to charges.

"President Trump, the leader of the Executive Branch, and his family have demonstrated genuine animus toward Mr. Avenatti," the lawyers said. "President Trump's son, Donald Trump, Jr., gleefully celebrated on Twitter when Mr. Avenatti was arrested on March 25."

Prosecutors declined through a spokesman to comment.

Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to charges he tried to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to publicize claims the sportswear company enabled payouts to promising young athletes and their families.

Avenatti represented Daniels over a nondisclosure deal regarding Daniels' claims that she had an affair with Trump.

Avenatti is also charged separately with defrauding Daniels in a book deal, and he faces federal fraud charges in California related to clients. He has denied wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Avenatti's lawyers gave a glimpse of some of the alleged wrongdoing within Nike that Avenatti claimed he referenced with their lawyers before his arrest.

The lawyers said "widespread corruption of amateur basketball at Nike" was revealed in evidence given to Avenatti's lawyers as they prepare for a November trial.

They cited, for instance, proof that an unspecified University of Kentucky men's basketball assistant coach exchanged text messages with a Nike youth league director alleging that the company's plan to pay elite high school players included New Orleans rookie and No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson, as well as Romeo Langford, chosen 14th in the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. There was no claim a payment was made.

The filing said Nike Elite Youth Basketball League director Carlton Debose acknowledged texting the Wildcats assistant that Nike paid players "through at least ten different" Elite League coaches.

The filing also said a Nike executive who led "Event Strategy" for the Elite League told a colleague "about carrying large amounts of cash through airport security and indicated that she would lie and `just say I just sold my car' if she got stopped."

Nike said in a statement: "Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion. Nike will continue its cooperation with the government's investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case."

In a statement, Kentucky said that the athletic department remains "committed to compliance in all facets. ... and will work closely with the NCAA and Southeastern Conference when necessary on any and all matters."

Updated August 15, 2019

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