NEW YORK (Reuters) - The youth basketball coach who hired Michael Avenatti to represent him in negotiations with Nike Inc said at the celebrity lawyer’s extortion trial on Thursday he became “very, very upset” upon learning that Avenatti planned to publicize his corruption accusations against the sports apparel company.
Testifying for the prosecution in Manhattan federal court, Gary Franklin also said he did not realize Avenatti had beenangling to run an internal probe at Nike, in the course of representing him. The coach said his hope was Nike itself would expose its corrupt employees.
Franklin, the coach of California Supreme, which had been in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, said he “never wanted to go public or have any press conference at all” before learning that Avenatti had tweeted a plan to do so last March 25, shortly before Avenatti was arrested.
Federal prosecutors hope to show jurors that Avenatti was interested in lining his pockets, while wiping away some of his debts, by threatening to expose Nike and knock billions of dollars off its market value.
Prosecutors said Avenatti shook down Nike by demanding it pay him up to $25 million for the internal probe plus $1.5 million to Franklin.
Avenatti threatened to publicize Franklin’s accusations that the company arranged payments to families of elite college basketball recruits, unless Nike paid up, prosecutors said.
Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to extortion-related charges and defrauding Franklin, who will testify again on Friday.
Defense lawyers have said Avenatti was simply negotiating to achieve “justice,” which the coach wanted at the time.
The Beaverton, Oregon-based company has denied wrongdoing.
Franklin hired Avenatti after seeing him rise to fame representing pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against U.S. President Donald Trump.
Earlier Thursday, Avenatti’s former office manager Judy Regnier testified that their law firm had been struggling financially when the Nike talks began, and Avenatti spoke of his wish to “clear the debt.”
On Monday, Franklin’s friend and adviser Jeffrey Auerbach testified that a press conference would be “damaging and detrimental” to Franklin’s goals, including rebuilding his relationship with Nike.
Earlier in the trial, Scott Wilson, a lawyer for Nike, said Avenatti bragged during negotiations he could create a media firestorm by publicizing Franklin’s accusations.
Avenatti also faces scheduled trials this year in California for allegedly defrauding other clients, and in Manhattan for keeping nearly $300,000 meant for Daniels from a book contract.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown
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