November 16, 2019 / 12:02 AM / a month ago

Lawyer Avenatti asks U.S. judge to dismiss new fraud charge

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyer Michael Avenatti on Friday urged a federal judge to dismiss a criminal fraud charge accusing him of misleading a client as part of his alleged effort to extort Nike Inc.

FILE PHOTO: Attorney Michael Avenatti exits the United States Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

In a motion filed in federal court in Manhattan, Avenatti said prosecutors were engaging in a “supercilious and dangerous attempt” to “regulate the practice of civil law” using a fraud statute meant to go after public officials who accept bribes and kickbacks.

A spokesman for the office of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.

Avenatti, 48, gained notoriety for representing porn star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in lawsuits involving President Donald Trump and his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

He was arrested in March on charges including extortion. Prosecutors accused him of threatening to publicize a claim by one of his clients, a basketball club coach, that Nike arranged for payments to elite college basketball recruits. Avenatti demanded that the athletic wear company pay the coach $1.5 million and pay himself more than $20 million, prosecutors said.

On Wednesday, prosecutors unveiled a new charge, accusing Avenatti of honest services fraud against the coach. Prosecutors said Avenatti failed to tell the coach Nike had agreed to pay him to settle the case as long as it did not have to pay Avenatti himself, who continued trying to use the case for his own benefit.

In his motion on Friday, Avenatti said the prosecutors had failed to allege he directly lied to the coach. He argued they were trying to use criminal law to “impose their own views of when and what constitutes adequate client communication during settlement negotiations.”

In addition to the charges involving Nike, Avenatti faces a separate criminal case in Manhattan in which he is accused of stealing about $300,000 from Daniels after helping her secure a book contract.

Federal prosecutors in California have also charged Avenatti with wire fraud, bank fraud and other crimes, saying he stole millions of dollars from clients.

Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Tom Brown

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