NEW YORK (Reuters) - Michael Avenatti, the celebrity lawyer and self-described high-profile nemesis of U.S. President Donald Trump, faces a trial on charges he tried to extort Nike Inc and defrauded a youth basketball coach he represented.
Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to three criminal counts. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday in Manhattan federal court. The trial could last three weeks.
Prosecutors said Avenatti threatened to hold a press conference, based on information from his client Gary Franklin, accusing Nike officials of making and trying to conceal illegal payments to families of top college basketball recruits.
Franklin’s team, California Supreme, had been in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.
Avenatti allegedly agreed not to hold the press conference if Nike agreed to pay Franklin $1.5 million, and also pay Avenatti $15 million to $25 million to conduct an internal probe, along with another lawyer.
Evidence includes secret recordings of Avenatti allegedly making threats, which prosecutors said were made after Nike brought his activity to their attention.
Nike has denied wrongdoing.
The defendant faces two extortion-related counts. He is also charged with honest services wire fraud for allegedly concealing from Franklin a settlement offer made by Nike, and using the coach’s accusations to extract riches for himself.
Avenatti faces more than 40 years in prison if convicted, but would likely get less.
Avenatti has said it violates the constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment for a civil lawyer to be prosecuted for threatening to truthfully expose misconduct by Nike that directly related to his client’s claims.
He has also said the honest services fraud charge should have been dismissed because there were no bribes or kickbacks.
In addition, Avenatti has said that prosecutors rushed to indict him as payback for his role as a “high-profile political antagonist” of Trump, after he began representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against the president.
Prosecutors in Manhattan have separately charged Avenatti with stealing about $300,000 from Daniels after helping her secure a book contract.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford and who Avenatti no longer represents, had accused Trump of having an affair with her in 2006, a claim the president has denied.
The most serious criminal case Avenatti faces is in southern California.
Prosecutors there accused him of stealing millions of dollars from clients, lying to the Internal Revenue Service and a bankruptcy court, and defrauding a bank. Avenatti faces up to 335 years in prison if convicted, but would likely get less.
Avenatti has pleaded not guilty in the Daniels and California cases.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Rosalba O'Brien