Lawyer charged with extortion: Deandre Ayton’s family took cash

Mar 26, 2019, 7:56 AM
(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)...
(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)
(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

A day after he was charged with trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike, attorney Michael Avenatti has launched a new public attack on the company.

In a string of tweets Tuesday, the lawyer accused Nike of “trying to divert attention from their own crimes.” One of those tweets brought current Phoenix Suns rookie and former Arizona Wildcats player Deandre Ayton into the fray.

The accusations charge that Ayton, as an amateur player, accepted impermissible benefits that would break NCAA rules.

Avenatti threatened Nike by claiming that a client had information that could damage the shoe company. That client, according to an ESPN report on Monday, is AAU coach Gary Franklin Sr., whose California Supreme program at one point included Ayton, fellow Suns rookie De’Anthony Melton and former Arizona player Solomon Hill, who now plays for the Pelicans.

This isn’t the first time Ayton’s family has been cited in college basketball recruiting corruption.

A former AAU team director of an Adidas school, T.J. Gassnola, testified in the FBI’s Adidas-involved federal trial that he paid $15,000 to a family friend of Ayton that was supposed to be passed to the player’s mother when Ayton was in junior high.

The report published from ESPN on Monday is written by Mark Schlabach, the same writer who reported last year that Arizona head coach Sean Miller was allegedly caught on an FBI wire tap discussion an impermissible payment. The story led to Miller stepping away from the program for a game before he returned.

Miller coached the Wildcats to a 17-15 record this season, but the cloud of accusations has lingered as the FBI trial continued onward.

That hasn’t stopped him from recruiting what is considered the best class of incoming players for the 2019-20 season. But as the federal trial continues, Miller has remained linked to the trial and reportedly will be subpoenaed to appear in it when it begins on April 22, according to college basketball reporter Adam Zagoria.

LSU coach Will Wade is the other coach expected to be subpoenaed, and he was pushed away from the Tigers as they prepared for an NCAA Tournament run.

Prosecutors say Avenatti approached Nike last week and threatened to expose rules violations involving an amateur youth team sponsored by the company unless it paid him up to $25 million.

Nike wouldn’t answer questions but said it has been cooperating with a federal investigation into NCAA basketball for a year.

In his tweets, Avenatti denied that the company was cooperating, “unless you count lying in response to subpoenas and withholding documents as ‘cooperating.'”

He said “Nike’s attempt at diversion and cover-up will fail miserably.”

Avenatti rose to prominence representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in her legal battles against President Donald Trump. His arrest on federal charges is a sharp reversal of fortune for a man who was considering a run for president last year.

Avenatti’s arrest Monday came just over a year after he rose to prominence representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in her legal battles against President Donald Trump.

Avenatti says he is confident he will be “fully exonerated.”

He was released on $300,000 bond after a brief court appearance in New York.

If convicted of the charges in California and New York, Avenatti could face up to nearly 100 years in prison.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Lawyer charged with extortion: Deandre Ayton’s family took cash