Celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti is alleging that the University of Oregon is covering up knowledge that former Ducks basketball player Bol Bol received payments from Nike to attend the university.
Avenatti, who was indicted by the Southern District of New York last week on charges of extorting Nike, told the Emerald that he found it unlikely that UO would not have known that Bol was paid to come to the program.
“It boggles the mind as to how they could not know Nike was exerting influence on that decision,” he said.
Avenatti told Yahoo! Sports that UO General Counsel Kevin Reed was opening an investigation into his claims about Bol and Avenatti said he would cooperate with the university. UO spokesperson Molly Blancett denied that UO opened an investigation into Avenatti’s claims, writing in an emailed statement.
"There is no investigation at the University of Oregon because we have seen no evidence that would indicate one is required,” Blancett wrote in an email to the Emerald. “As we’ve previously stated, the UO’s general counsel reached out to see if Mr. Avenatti has evidence of wrong doing as he has alleged, which is a normal due diligence practice for the UO’s legal team. We have not met with Mr. Avenatti, and he has not produced any further documentation for the UO to review.”
Avenatti said while it remains unknown if UO coaches or administrators knew about payments to Bol, he finds it “very hard to believe that all of this occurred without their knowledge.”
Avenatti told the Emerald that he would provide UO with more documents and information if it opened a formal investigation and hired an independent investigator, like the University of Nevada Las Vegas did after he made similar claims. Avenatti said he would only provide more information under those circumstances because he was concerned the university could bury it.
“It has all the makings of a cover-up. I mean if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” Avenatti said of UO’s handling of his allegations.
Blancett did not answer specifics about what “due diligence” means or what other steps UO had taken to look into Avenatti’s claims, including whether the university questioned Bol or Nike about if he received improper payments. Blancett also did not answer the Emerald’s questions about the circumstances under which the university would consider hiring an independent investigator.
Nicholas Biase, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, declined to comment on the Emerald’s story.
“Now the question is, did Bol Bol receive this money or not, what has the university done to look into it and what’s the university’s explanation for these payments?” Avenatti told the Emerald. “This really isn’t complicated. The only reason that it becomes complicated is if the university is trying to cover it up.”
Avenatti has made headlines since 2018 when he represented adult film actress Stormy Daniels in two lawsuits against President Donald Trump. Since then, Avenatti has remained in the spotlight by alleging that Nike paid amateur basketball players to attend Nike-sponsored colleges and was indicted last week for defrauding Daniels, though Avenatti told CNBC in an email last week that the evidence would exonerate him.
Avenatti was also indicted on 36 counts of wire, tax, bank and bankruptcy fraud in April by the Central District of California for allegedly stealing and mishandling his clients’ money. If convicted on all counts, the Central District of California says Avenatti faces a statutory maximum sentence of up to 333 years in prison. Avenatti tweeted that the claims he mishandled client money were “bogus nonsense.”
The allegations became more specific to UO when Avenatti said he had proof that Nike paid basketball player Bol Bol to play at the university, among other player and university allegations that involved DeAndre Ayton and Brandon McCoy.
Avenatti was arrested for extortion by the FBI in March after he and an unnamed co-conspirator allegedly threatened to “‘take ten billion dollars off [Nike’s] market cap’” unless the company paid Avenatti’s client a $1.5 million settlement and retained Avenatti and his partner for an internal investigation he estimated would cost up to $25 million.
After the arrest, Avenatti released 41 pages of documents that he said proved his allegations were true. Seven of those documents purported to show payments in connection to Bol.
In an interview with the Emerald, Avenatti stood by the veracity of his documents, saying that “the text messages, the bank statements and the other documents don't lie. Those are not fabricated documents — there’s no question as to their validity.”
UO General Counsel Kevin Reed reached out to Avenatti by email on March 27 and asked Avenatti to share documents or evidence that would “shed light on whether any student at the University of Oregon have received improper payments from any source.” Avenatti told Yahoo! Sports in May that while he would cooperate fully with any universities opening investigations into improper payments to student athletes, UO had not contacted him, and Reed reached out again, asking if Avenatti had received his initial email.
In subsequent emails exchanged with Reed, Avenatti took issue with Reed’s request for “credible evidence of payments indicated were for improper purposes” without the UO opening a formal investigation.
“I’m going to be frank - this smacks of a cover-up,” Avenatti wrote in a May 18 email to Reed. “If you haven’t opened an investigation, why not? What have you opened - a probe, an inquiry? Why the word-smithing?”
Reed responded the same day, writing: “I have taken care not to characterize your conduct. I would appreciate it if you would similarly refrain. I am, however, interested in facts. If you have facts to share, I would appreciate the chance to receive them. Let me know if you have further evidence.”
Reed also told Avenatti that he could be in Los Angeles on May 30 or 31, saying that, at the time of writing the email, he was still interested in meeting Avenatti and receiving more information than what Avenatti had previously shared on social media.
Avenatti declined to share information with Reed.
“Let me know when and if the University gets serious about getting to the truth by hiring an unbiased third-party to lead a real investigation,” Avenatti wrote.
In an interview with the Emerald, Avenatti said that the UO is “playing games” and that the question of whether UO opened an investigation comes down to semantics.
“So is there an inquiry? Is there a probe? Is there an investigation? I mean this is ludicrous; they’re acting like they don’t want to know the truth,” Avenatti said.