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Nike 'won't respond' to new Avenatti accusations, including alleged bribe to Zion Williamson's mom

Lauren Thomas
  • Attorney Michael Avenatti on Saturday tweeted a link to evidence he claims shows "Nike bribed players to attend 'Nike' colleges."
  • He also made allegations against Duke University's Zion Williamson.
  • Nike says it won't respond to "allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion and aid in his disgraceful attempts to distract from the athletes on the court at the height of the [NCAA] tournament."

Nike NKE says it won't respond to the latest allegations by celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti that the sneaker maker made illicit payments to the families of high school athletes to lure them to certain "Nike" colleges, including that of now Duke University player Zion Williamson.

On Saturday, Avenatti dumped 41-pages of documents on Twitter which he claimed are "evidence showing Nike bribed players to attend 'Nike' colleges." He also made allegations claiming Williamson's mother, Sharonda Sampson, received payments from Nike during her son's recruitment when he was attending high school in South Carolina.

"This evidence is now in the hands of law enforcement," he said. "Still waiting for Nike to deny they paid bribes and lied to the government for years about it. They know they did it and are guilty as hell."

Avenatti 2: Nike should be criminally indicted on well over 200 counts and should also explain why they misled their investors/the SEC. If I'm lying or the docs are not legit, I challenge @nike to issue a stmt claiming no bribes were ever paid. Just Do It Nike!

Williamson is not named in the weekend document dump, but Avenatti posted allegations on Twitter.

Williamson Tweet: About this denial by Coach K the other day relating to payments by Nike...Can you please ask Zion Williamson's mother - Sharonda Sampson - whether she was paid by @ nike for bogus "consulting services" in 2016/17 as part of a Nike bribe to get Zion to go to Duke? Thx.

This all comes after Avenatti, who has gained widespread notoriety in the past year for representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen, was arrested and charged in New York in March for trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike by threatening to take his allegations public. At that same time, he was also separately charged in a second federal case in Los Angeles for embezzling a client's money "in order to pay his own expenses and debts," according to prosecutors.

Now, in the midst of the NCAA men's Final Four basketball playoff, Avenatti is still trying to take down Nike, claiming he has evidence that more than $170,000 has been paid out by the retailer to family members of basketball players including the Phoenix Suns' Deandre Ayton, former University of Nevada Las Vegas player Brandon McCoy, Oregon Ducks' Bol Bol and Duke Blue Devils' Williamson.

"Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion and aid in his disgraceful attempts to distract from the athletes on the court at the height of the tournament," a Nike spokesperson told CNBC in a statement in response to Avenatti's tweets. "Nike will continue its cooperation with the government's investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case."

Duke's Director of Athletics Kevin White said in a statement that the university is looking into the allegations regarding Williamson and his mother.

"We are aware of the allegation and, as we would with any compliance matter, are looking into it. Duke is fully committed to compliance with all NCAA rules and regulations. Every student-athlete at Duke is reviewed to ensure their eligibility. With regard to men's basketball: all recruits and their families are thoroughly vetted by Duke in collaboration with the NCAA through the Eligibility Center's amateurism certification process."

Williamson has risen as a freshman to be the most talked-about player in college basketball this year. Williamson is the projected No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and just this week accepted two national player-of the-year awards during the Final Four tournament.

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