An already bizarre case accusing a secretive self-help group in upstate New York of engaging in sex-trafficking took another strange turn Wednesday thanks to firebrand attorneyand a courtroom scene caused by a wealthy defendant he's tried to represent. At a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, prosecutors confirmed that Avenatti appeared on behalf of liquor fortune heiress at a closed-door meeting last week that also included Mark Geragos, another high-profile lawyer representing Bronfman.
Bronfman, a daughter of the late billionaire philanthropist and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., has pleaded not guilty to charges accusing her of bank-rolling, an alleged cult-like organization accused of brainwashing and branding women who served as sex slaves for its spiritual leader. When U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis asked Geragos whether he and Avenatti, the lawyer best known for representing porn actress , had told prosecutors Avenatti was being brought into the case, he responded, "That's exactly what happened."
Under stern questioning by the judge about which lawyers are actually representing Clare Bronfman and whether she knew if Geragos was involved in a criminal case revealed this week against Avenatti, she turned pale, staggered away from the bench and collapsed into a chair. An ambulance was called, but she later left the courthouse on the arm of Geragos.
The judge adjourned the hearing but told lawyers Bronfman would need to come back to court Thursday to give some answers. "You're going to tell me who the lawyers are," he said. "You're going to tell me when they were retained."
The development came only two days after Avenatti was arrested on charges accusing him of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike. He wasn't in court Wednesday and didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Federal prosecutors in New York said they have phone calls proving. According to their complaint, Avenatti claimed one of his clients had evidence that Nike was involved in an illegal recruiting scheme.
Prosecutors said he asked Nike to pay him and another attorney more than $22 million to keep quiet. Sources told CBS News that second attorney was Geragos.
Geragos has not been charged. Asked outside court Wednesday if he was cooperating in the case, he said no, but declined comment on whether he was the alleged co-conspirator.