NEW YORK, Jan 15 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday rejected Michael Avenatti’s bid to dismiss criminal charges accusing him of trying to extort Nike Inc, after the celebrity lawyer claimed he was targeted in a “vindictive” prosecution because of his feud with U.S. President Donald Trump.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan ruled the morning after Avenatti was arrested in California for potential violations of his bail conditions in a separate case there accusing him of defrauding other clients.
Lawyers for Avenatti did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Avenatti, 48, is known for publicly feuding with Trump and representing porn actress Stormy Daniels, who received hush money before the 2016 presidential election not to reveal an alleged sexual encounter with the president, which Trump denies.
In the Nike case, prosecutors said Avenatti threatened to publicize claims by his client, a youth basketball coach, that Nike made improper payments to families of college basketball recruits, unless Nike paid him $15 million to $25 million to conduct a probe, plus $1.5 million to the coach.
Avenatti said the case was in part payback for the animosity between him and Trump, who once tweeted that Avenatti was “a third rate lawyer who is good at making false accusations,” and that no “John Doe” lawyer would have been similarly charged.
But the judge found no evidence that the prosecution was brought maliciously or at Trump’s behest, noting that it was Nike that alerted prosecutors to the alleged extortion.
“Avenatti is being prosecuted for activities wholly unrelated to the political arena,” Gardephe wrote.
The Nike trial is scheduled for Jan. 21. It is unclear how Avenatti’s arrest might affect its timing.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan declined to comment. The office of U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna in Los Angeles did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In the California case, where he faces a potential 335 years in prison, Avenatti was also charged with lying to the Internal Revenue Service, committing bank fraud, and falsely testifying in a bankruptcy case involving his former law firm.
He has also pleaded not guilty in a separate Manhattan criminal case claiming he stole nearly $300,000 from Daniels, representing proceeds from her book contract. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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