Avenatti trial on slow track as first witness testifies

NEW YORK (AP) — The trial of California attorney Michael Avenatti on charges that he tried to extort millions of dollars from Nike is on the slow track.

The first witness — Nike lawyer Scott Wilson — will return to the witness stand for a fourth day on Monday. U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe said closing arguments might still be two weeks away. Jurors were told Tuesday that the trial would last up to 2 1/2 weeks.

Gardephe said Wilson is an important witness, and he ordered lawyers to work through the weekend to resolve issues over how far defense attorneys can go with questions to try to attack Wilson’s credibility.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky claimed defense lawyers were trying to sneak into the trial suspicion about Nike’s motives to create a “complete sideshow to distract the jury to what this trial is not about.”

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Defense lawyers have said Nike tried to win favor with prosecutors who were investigating the company, portraying itself as a victim and Avenatti as a villain.

Wilson has testified that Avenatti threatened to create a media storm of bad publicity for Nike if the company did not pay him up to $25 million to conduct an internal probe of the shoemaker.

Wilson testified Friday that he played along with Avenatti to make him think Nike might make a large payout so he could prevent him from going through with his threat to stage a damaging news conference the next day.

“I wanted to not spook Mr. Avenatti,” he said. “At no point did I intend to make a payment.”

Wilson said he knew Avenatti had the ability to damage Nike with publicity because of the fame he had built up by representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump.

On cross examination Thursday and Friday, a lawyer for Avenatti has tried to damage Wilson’s credibility with questions about how he reported his dealings with Avenatti to federal prosecutors.

Wilson said he reported what Avenatti said to prosecutors who were investigating payments made by sports apparel companies to the families of NBA-bound high school basketball players.

Wilson said he did not tell Avenatti that he would report what he said to federal prosecutors, though he noted that Nike on multiple occasions had said publicly that it was cooperating with the federal probe of corruption in college basketball.

Avenatti’s lawyers maintain their client did nothing wrong as he carried out negotiations with Nike on behalf of a client who said he had proof that Nike was contributing to corruption in college basketball.

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