World

US lawyer Avenatti convicted of extortion

By AAP Newswire

Michael Avenatti, the combative lawyer who gained fame by representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits involving President Donald Trump, has been convicted of trying to extort sportswear giant Nike.

The verdict was returned by a federal jury in Manhattan following a three-week trial in which prosecutors said Avenatti threatened to use his media access to hurt Nike's reputation and stock price unless the company paid him up to $US25 million ($A37 million).

The convictions for attempted extortion and honest services fraud carry a combined potential penalty of 42 years in prison.

Avenatti glared at the jurors as the verdict was being announced but said nothing.

Afterward, he shook hands with his lawyers and told them "great job" before he was led back to the cell where he has been held since a judge found he had violated his bail conditions.

His lawyer, Scott Srebnick, said he would appeal the conviction. A judge set sentencing for June.

"We are all obviously deeply disappointed by the jury's verdict. We believe there are substantial legal grounds for the appeal that he plans to pursue," Srebnick said in an email.

"Michael Avenatti has been a fighter his entire life. The inhumane conditions of solitary confinement he has endured over the past month would break anyone but he remains strong," Srebnick said.

The jury agreed with prosecutors who argued that Avenatti misused a client's information "in an effort to extort tens of millions of dollars" from Nike, US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a written statement.

"While the defendant may have tried to hide behind legal terms and a suit and tie, the jury clearly saw the defendant's scheme for what it was - an old fashioned shakedown," he said.

At trial, lawyers for Nike used words like "shakedown" and "stickup" to describe what they felt they were subject to when Avenatti threatened to stage a news conference to muddy Nike's name by linking the company to a college basketball scandal.

Avenatti, 48, became a cable news fixture in 2018 and 2019 as journalists courted him for information about Daniels and her claims of a tryst with Trump before he became president, and a payoff to remain silent about it. At his peak of notoriety, Avenatti used Twitter and TV appearances to relentlessly criticise Trump and even considered running for president himself.