(CBS) — Facing federal charges of fraud and extortion, Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing some of the alleged victims of singer R. Kelly, denies he did anything wrong, and says the allegations against him are “absolutely absurd.”
Earlier this week, Avenatti was charged in New York with attempting to extort tens of millions of dollars from Nike. He also was charged with bank and wire fraud in California.
If convicted in both cases, Avenatti could face up to nearly 100 years in prison. He maintains his innocence and told CBS News he believes he will be exonerated.
“Did you try to extort Nike for millions of dollars?” CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan asked Avenatti, less than a day after he was released on $300,000 bond.
“No, and any suggestion is absolutely absurd. Nike knew, from the very first moment that I had any contact with Nike, that I was insisting that the truth about what Nike had done be disclosed to federal prosecutors and investigators,” he responded.
“What is the truth?”
“The truth is, for years Nike and its executives have been funneling payments to amateur players, high school players and to their handlers and family members in an effort to get them to go to colleges that were Nike colleges and ultimately hopefully to the NBA so they can sign a shoe deal with Nike,” Avenatti said.
But federal prosecutors maintain a different version of the truth.
“Avenatti was not acting as an attorney. A suit and tie doesn’t mask the fact that at its core, this was an old-fashioned shakedown,” said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
They allege Avenatti attempted to use his platform to blackmail the apparel giant.
“The complaint does suggest that you asked for up to $20 million – 1.5 for your client – and at least $20 million. And that you requested you be retained to do an internal investigation. And that if not you and they hired someone else you stand to make more money,” Duncan said.
“Yeah, I — I — I — not gonna get into the specifics of this,” Avenatti said. “But what I will say is the way this has been framed is not accurate. It’s just not accurate. And in fact, from the very first moment that we had any meeting with Nike, we made it clear that under no circumstances would we participate in anything that did not require full disclosure to investigators and the federal government.”
As for the wire and bank fraud charges in California, the complaint said he tried to embezzle $1.6 million from his client.
“The client who is accusing me of embezzlement is currently on felony probation in California,” Avenatti said. “You know what he was convicted of? Multiple accounts of obtaining money under false pretenses. It turns out — and I didn’t know this at the time — that he has an extensive criminal background and rap sheet associated with his conduct. So again, nowhere does that appear in the complaint. So there’s gonna be a lot of evidence. There’s gonna be a lot of facts that have come — going to come to light.”
“You’re facing — if convicted on all of these charges — up to the rest of your life in prison. Are you nervous?” Duncan asked.
“Well, of course I’m nervous,” Avenatti responded.
“Are you scared? Are you concerned? I mean, tell us I guess as someone who, again, has a history of representing people and now you’re on the other side facing some serious charges,” Duncan said.
“I am nervous. I’m concerned. I’m scared,” Avenatti said.
“But you also seem confident.”
“I am confident because I believe the facts are on my side,” Avenatti said.
In a statement, Nike told CBS News when it became aware of Avenatti’s “plans to extort the company,” it “immediately reported” it “along with the information he shared, to federal prosecutors.” Nike said it has been “cooperating with the government’s investigation into NCAA basketball for over a year” and encouraged Avenatti “to share any information he believes he has with the government.”
In a statement, the NCAA said it will “always welcome any firsthand, credible, lawfully obtained and disclosed information of NCAA rules violations.”
Avenatti represents four women accusing R. Kelly of sexual abuse, including at least one of the alleged victims in the Cook County case against the singer. Kelly has been charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, involving four victims, three of them underage girls.
Kelly denies all wrongdoing.
The charges against Avenatti are not connected to the Kelly case.