Politics

Michael Avenatti convicted of trying to extort Nike

NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Avenatti, the combative lawyer who gained fame by representing a porn star in lawsuits involving President Donald Trump, was convicted Friday of trying to extort sportswear giant Nike.

The verdict was returned Friday 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 $25 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, declined to comment but said he would appeal the conviction. A judge set sentencing for June.

Avenatti, 48, became a cable news fixture in 2018 and 2019 as journalists courted him for information about porn star Stormy Daniels and her claims of a Trump tryst 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 criticize Trump and even considered running for president himself.

But Avenatti’s fall was swift. He was arrested as he was about to meet Nike lawyers last March to press his demands for millions of dollars to conduct an internal probe of the Beaverton, Oregon-based apparel maker.

Avenatti maintained he was taking the aggressive position at the urging of his client, Gary Franklin, who ran a youth basketball league in Los Angeles and was angry that Nike ended a decadelong sponsorship that provided $72,000 annually and free gear. He sought $1.5 million for Franklin, as well.

Franklin testified that two Nike executives forced him to pay money to the mother of an elite high school basketball player’s mother and to pass along payments to the handlers of other players while doctoring paperwork to hide the purpose of the funds.

Avenatti did not testify, but his lawyers said he was following the wishes of Franklin and an entertainment executive who advised him to be aggressive to force Nike to fire corrupt executives and fix its culture.

Besides the extortion trial, Avenatti also faces an April trial in New York on charges that he defrauded Daniels of book proceeds and a May trial in Los Angeles on charges that he defrauded clients and others of millions of dollars.

He remains held without bail. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles succeeded last month in getting him locked up after saying he violated his $300,000 bail by moving money around illegally after his arrest.

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Boyfriend of British TV presenter heartbroken by her death

LONDON (AP) — The boyfriend of Caroline Flack, the former British TV host for the controversial reality show “Love Island,” said Sunday that his “heart is broken” at her death as criticism mounted over her treatment by some British media.

British commercial television network ITV said it would not air Sunday’s edition of the show but that it would return on Monday with a tribute to its former host.

Flack, 40, was found dead Saturday at her home in east London after taking her own life, according to a family lawyer. Flack hosted “Love Island” from its launch in 2015 before stepping down in December after being charged with assaulting her 27-year-old boyfriend, Lewis Burton.

Flack denied the charge and was to stand trial next month. She was also not allowed to have any contact with Burton, a bail restriction he objected to. Burton also did not want Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service to go ahead with the trial.

Over the past few months, Flack had been the focus of several negative articles and was trolled across social media for the assault charge. On Sunday, the story of her suicide dominated the front pages of British newspapers.

Beside a picture of them together, Burton said on Instagram that he was in “so much pain.”

He added: “I promise I will ask all the questions you wanted and I will get all the answers nothing will bring you back but I will try make you proud everyday.”

The sixth season of “Love Island” is currently airing and ITV said in a statement that it will not broadcast Sunday’s edition of the show. On Saturday, the commercial network did not air a package of unseen footage from the previous week.

“After careful consultation between Caroline’s representatives and the ‘Love Island’ production team, and given how close we still are to the news of Caroline’s tragic death, we have decided not to broadcast tonight’s ‘Love Island’ out of respect for Caroline’s family,” ITV said in a statement.

ITV said the show will return on Monday and that it will include “a tribute to Caroline who will be forever in our hearts.”

“Love Island” puts young, attractive contestants in a tropical paradise, where they must pair up or risk being exiled. Critics claim the program places vulnerable young people under intense scrutiny and pressure, which is magnified by blanket coverage of the show by tabloids and TV talk shows. Two former “Love Island” contestants, Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis, died by suicide in 2018 and 2019.

Until her arrest, Flack had enjoyed a meteoric career rise after co-hosting Saturday morning children’s television shows. She also hosted companion shows to the popular ITV programs “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” and “The X Factor.”

Flack’s career blossomed further after she won the BBC show “Strictly Come Dancing” in 2014, the British version of “Dancing With The Stars.” While hosting “Love Island,” Flack made her West End stage debut in 2018, playing Roxie Hart in the musical “Chicago.”

Her death led to a flood of tributes from fellow TV hosts and criticism of her treatment by the media. The Sun tabloid, for example, removed negative online articles about her soon after her death was announced.

Talent agent Jonathan Shalit told BBC radio that Flack received “more negative press than a terrorist or a paedophile” over the trial.

“These people might be famous, but they’re still vulnerable individuals,” Shalit said.

By Sunday evening, an online petition calling for a government inquiry into “the practices and policies of mainstream media organisations and social media platforms in their efforts to protect members of the public from harm” had garnered more than 191,000 signatures.

The Crown Prosecution Service has also come under criticism for pushing ahead with the trial in the face of Burton’s opposition, particularly from Flack’s management’s company.

“The CPS should look at themselves today and how they pursued a show trial that was not only without merit but not in the public interest,” said Francis Ridley of Money Talent Management. “And ultimately resulted in significant distress to Caroline.”

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