By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Nike Inc asked a judge to block Michael Avenatti from having five of its sports marketing officials testify at his upcoming criminal trial, calling their testimony irrelevant to whether the California lawyer tried to extort the company.
In a Thursday filing in Manhattan federal court, Nike called Avenatti’s subpoenas for testimony from sports marketing chief John Slusher and others part of an effort to “put the government’s and Nike’s conduct on trial,” and distract jurors from his own conduct.
Lawyers for Avenatti did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Avenatti became famous representing porn star Stormy Daniels and criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump.
Prosecutors have accused Avenatti of demanding up to $25 million from Nike in exchange for not publicizing allegations it made improper payments to top college basketball recruits, and for being hired to conduct an internal probe of Nike.
“Mr. Avenatti would like to elicit the Nike employees’ testimony to try to establish that Nike engaged in criminal conduct, and that Nike hid this criminal conduct from the government while claiming to be cooperating,” Nike said in the filing. “This narrative – which paints Nike as the villain and Mr. Avenatti as the hero -is false and illogical.”
Nike said it “committed no crimes and fully cooperated,” and would not have rushed to alert prosecutors to the allegations had there been a cover-up.
It also said the Nike officials never spoke with Avenatti, and all they might testify about was the Beaverton, Oregon-based company’s actual conduct concerning amateur basketball.
The trial is scheduled for Jan. 21, and could last three weeks.
Avenatti also faces criminal charges in Manhattan that he cheated Daniels out of proceeds from a book contract, and in California that he defrauded clients out of millions of dollars.
He has denied all charges.
Daniels said she had an affair with Trump before he became U.S. president. Trump has denied having the affair.
The case is U.S. v. Avenatti, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-cr-00373.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)