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Michael Avenatti Indictment Casts Shadow On R. Kelly's Criminal Case

3/26/2019 1:00 AM PDT
EXCLUSIVE

Michael Avenatti's new legal woes -- being accused of extortion and fraud -- could derail the case against R. Kelly ... that's what the singer's lawyer thinks.

R. Kelly's attorney, Steve Greenberg, tells TMZ ... now that Avenatti has been charged with extortion as well as bank and tax fraud, his credibility is now a centerpiece in the singer's case -- specifically, the circumstances surrounding how prosecutors obtained a key piece of evidence.

That evidence, of course, is a sex tape that Cook County investigators claim shows R. Kelly having sex with an underage girl, who's alleged to be 14 years old. It's what many believe to be a smoking gun against R. Kelly ... and the catalyst that led to a 10-count indictment.

Greenberg says the issue of "chain of custody" -- how Cook County got ahold of that tape via Avenatti -- is now questionable. Greenberg strongly suggests the possibility the tape could've been altered before it got to prosecutors. 

Sources connected to the case tell us that the man who handed the tape over to Avenatti is a whistle-blower who has a history of extorting R. Kelly. 

We're told the man recently confessed to prosecutors in Chicago that he squeezed about a million dollars out of R. Kelly's team in the past to stop the tape from going public. So, the question ... if the guy got the cash, how would Avenatti have gotten it?

Remember, there were supposedly TWO R. Kelly sex tapes that Avenatti turned over to Cook County officials, but Greenberg tells us he's only aware of one.

Either way, if Greenberg can create reasonable doubt in the jury's mind as to authenticity ... he could get R. Kelly off. Hey, we've seen it happen before.

D.L. Hughley Dr. Dre's Daughter Should Be Grateful ... 70 MILLION Reasons Why

3/26/2019 12:50 AM PDT
EXCLUSIVE

D.L. Hughley is coming out swinging for Dr. Dre ... telling us Dre's daughter needs to appreciate the fact he "pushed" her to go to USC, and also that her dad can afford to LEGALLY grease the wheel for her. 

We got the comedian at LAX, and our photog asked him about Dre deleting his post throwing shade at Lori Loughlin and all the other parents swept up in the college admissions bribery scandal.

D.L. says the rap mogul shouldn't apologize for donating $70 million to the University -- and adds even IF that helped his daughter, Truly Young, get in ... it's the least USC can do!!!  

As for Truly saying her dad pushed her to attend SC ... D.L. says Dre's just being a good parent, and Truly has 70 million reasons to be grateful. 

D.L.'s an expert on the topic ... his daughter's also at USC, and he's hustling every day -- he was just getting back from a gig -- to pay her tuition. College ain't cheap, even when ya do it all legal and stuff.

You gotta see his take on Dre's fam as a whole -- D.L.'s got a feeling Truly won't be its last Trojan.

Nikki Bella Open to WWE Return ... 'No Bad Blood'

3/26/2019 12:40 AM PDT
EXCLUSIVE

Nikki Bella is NOT leaving the WWE on bad terms -- it's the opposite -- with sources telling us she still has a GREAT working relationship with the company and is DEFINITELY open to returning to the ring. 

35-year-old Bella just announced she's hanging up her wrestling boots after 12 years with Vince McMahon's promotion -- mostly because of the wear and tear on her body ... and also to pursue other business ventures. 

But, sources close to Nikki tell us ... she still loves wrestling, still loves the WWE and would be down to make cameos in the future -- as long as the timing is right. 

In fact, we're told Nikki will remain a WWE ambassador even though she won't be wrestling full-time. Also, she plans on continuing her reality show, "Total Bellas," which is produced by WWE. 

As we previously reported, Nikki made her retirement decision after a recent trip overseas that was particularly rough on her body. She just can't handle the constant punishment a full-time wrestler endures. 

Nikki had neck surgery 3 years ago stemming from a wrestling injury, and she's been battling neck pain ever since. 

Bella has said she plans to focus on growing her businesses -- which includes a podcast, activewear line, beauty products and even a wine label. 

Busy lady!! 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib I'm Not Buyin' What Barr's Sellin' Prove to Me Trump Didn't Collude

3/26/2019 12:30 AM PDT
EXCLUSIVE

Rep. Rashida Tlaib says President Trump is NOT off the hook in Robert Mueller's Russian collusion investigation ... because she clearly doesn't trust the man who summarized it.

We got the Democrat Congresswoman at Reagan National and raised the issue ... isn't it a good thing for the country if the Prez didn't collude with Putin and Co.? The Congresswoman recoiled and made it clear ... she's not convinced Trump's clean, given all we know is what his hired gun, Attorney General William Barr, said in his letter

Barr did quote Mueller's conclusion on the issue of collusion ... "[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

The unconvinced Tlaib says the only way this "dark cloud" can be lifted is for the report to be released in full, without a cushion from a Trump ally. 

It's interesting -- Tlaib talks impeachment with us here too ... saying Trump's misdeeds go well beyond the Russians.

Woodstock Co-Creator Tells Purists to Quit Bitching!!! ... About Modern Lineup

3/26/2019 12:20 AM PDT
EXCLUSIVE

Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper and Common are gonna attract a new generation to Woodstock 50 and anyone who's not down with that better get the hell over it ... STAT!!!

Michael Lang -- the co-creator of Woodstock's 50th anniversary festival -- tells TMZ ... he heard about the backlash the festival has received in response to the lineup it released last week. Fans bitched it's too pop and modern, with artists like Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons and Halsey.

The backlash was intense. One person tweeted, "The Woodstock 50 lineup looks like it was curated by someone who's only exposure to music has been through the Grammy's 'Best Rock Performance' category between 2010-2013."

But, check out the video ... Michael makes it crystal clear the lineup is an homage to the original 1969 festival ... where more than 400,000 spectators gathered in the Catskill Mountains united by their love for great music and disdain for the Vietnam War.

Michael says he's hoping to get a younger audience engaged in social discourse -- just like his generation once did -- and in the process, introduce Woodstock to a whole new generation.

So, while there will be familiar acts for the veterans -- like Santana and Dead & Company -- Michael's adamant Woodstock will benefit from an eclectic lineup.

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It's time #Woodstock50☮️♥️🎵

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Deontay Wilder Fury Rematch Will 'Definitely' Happen ... Both Sides Talking

3/26/2019 12:10 AM PDT
EXCLUSIVE

Some good news, bad news ... 

The Good News ... Deontay Wilder says he's in talks with Tyson Fury's camp and he's VERY confident the two sides will get a deal done for a rematch. 

The Bad News ... it probably ain't happening until 2020. 

"I think that's something that is definitely gonna happen, but it's gonna take a little time now," Wilder tells TMZ Sports

"Fury didn't want the rematch and I don't blame him. To be getting up off your ass like he did and to get a concussion, I wouldn't want to go again either!"

Of course, the two did battle back in December -- and even though Wilder knocked Fury down TWICE, Fury fought like hell and the bout was eventually scored a draw

The two had initially talked about locking in a rematch right away -- but negotiations hit a wall and they both have since booked fights with other opponents in May and in June.  

Wilder is set to take on Dominic Breazeale in New York while Fury will fight Tom Schwarz in Las Vegas. 

Wilder says the plan is to make sure Breazeale leaves the ring in a body bag. Yeesh. 

As for the rematch, Wilder says ... it will "probably" go down in 2020 -- but it's possible that could be moved up to 2019 if the two sides can reach an agreement. 

Wilder says "all parties are in conversation" ... and advises fans, "Good things come to those who wait."

Guess Who This Beaming Boy Turned Into!

3/26/2019 12:01 AM PDT

Before this funny fella was cookin' up jokes in Hollywood, he was just another goofy guy growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Can you guess who he is?

Michael Avenatti Arrested For Fraud ... I'll Be 'Fully Exonerated'

3/25/2019 6:13 PM PDT
Breaking News

6:13 PM PT -- Avenatti just held a brief press conference, saying, "I have fought against the powerful -- powerful people and powerful corporations -- I will never stop fighting that good fight." He added he's "highly confident" he'll be "fully exonerated."

4:33 PM PT -- Avenatti has just been released on a $300,000 bond. He didn't have to pay that amount, but it had to be co-signed by 2 people who say they're good for it.

While he's out on bond, his travel will be restricted to New York and California ... and all travel plans must be approved by the government. Avenatti is also barred from contacting Mark Geragos.

2:53 PM PT -- Avenatti's indictment will NOT have any major impact on the pending R. Kelly criminal case, in which he reps the family of Azriel Clary ... so says Gerald Griggs, who represents Joycelyn Savage's family. Griggs tells TMZ ...  that while Avenatti's criminal cases present problems for himself personally, Griggs says they'll have "minimal" effect in the R. Kelly matter. He adds, "[T]he ten charges are based on four independent accusers and other information independent of Mr. Avenatti. The Savage family continues to seek reunification with their daughter, and that process of justice continues on course for all the alleged victims of Robert Sylvester Kelly."

1:15 PM PT -- The Nike indictment says Avenatti had an unnamed co-conspirator, and we've confirmed reports it is famed attorney Mark Geragos

12:08 PM PT -- Nike just broke its silence following the news conferences ... saying it "will not be extorted or hide information that is relevant to a government investigation. Nike has been cooperating with the government's investigation into NCAA basketball for over a year."

The shoe giant goes on to say, "When Nike became aware of this matter, Nike immediately reported it to federal prosecutors. When Mr. Avenatti attempted to extort Nike over this matter, Nike with the assistance of outside counsel at Boies Schiller Flexner, aided the investigation."

"Nike firmly believes in ethical and fair play, both in business and sports, and will continue to assist the prosecutors." 

If you recognize the law firm -- Boies Schiller Flexner -- the "Boies" is David Boies, the famous high-powered lawyer who's represented everyone from Al Gore to Harvey Weinstein. 

In fact, Boies was also heavily involved with Theranos -- the blood testing company -- and was featured in the HBO documentary "The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley."

11:55 AM PT -- The NY Presser just finished up, and prosecutors there had quite a bit to say about Avenatti's alleged extortion efforts toward Nike.

Prosecutors in NY say the alleged Nike scheme played out over the course of a few days last week. Avenatti repped an AAU coach whose team had just lost a Nike sponsorship worth $72k a year. The coach claimed that Nike made payments to families of some high school basketball players, and Avenatti demanded payment from Nike to keep him quiet.

He was arrested Monday at the location where he was supposed to meet with Nike brass, presumably to strike a deal or keep the convo going.

For the record .. the only thing that was coordinated between NY and California was how the bust would go down. That said ... these are two separate federal cases.

11:33 AM PT -- The L.A. Presser just wrapped, and investigators didn't pull any punches in condemning Avenatti's alleged criminal behavior ... calling him a "corrupt lawyer" who was only out for his own personal gain.

Among the most damning allegations in Avenatti's financial case ... Avenatti allegedly siphoned off a $1.6 million settlement he scored for a client in 2017 and hid it in a personal bank account that he controlled ... but never told his client a thing about it. The U.S. Attorney alleges Avenatti used that money to fund his lavish lifestyle and to help pay for his coffee business in California and Washington State. All the while, the client never received a penny. 

What's more ... the U.S. Attorney and the IRS also claim Avenatti defrauded a bank for millions of dollars worth of loans by submitting fake tax returns between 2011 and 2013, in which he claimed to have earned around $4-$5 million a year each year and supposedly paid $2.8 million in taxes. The government says all of that was a lie ... he didn't file taxes those years at all.

10:50 AM PT -- There will be 2 news conferences ... the U.S. Attorney in L.A. will address the wire fraud charges at 11 AM PT, and the U.S. Attorney in New York will address the Nike extortion case at 11:30 AM PT. TMZ will live stream both news conferences. 

The DA's office also prepared a chart with the breakdown of the alleged extortion timeline in NY.

Michael Avenatti has been arrested and charged with trying to extort $20 million out of Nike.

The feds claim Avenatti told Nike's lawyers if they didn't pay him between $15 million and $25 million he would hold a news conference on the eve of Nike's quarterly earnings call and the start of March Madness and announce allegations of misconduct by employees at the shoe company.

According to the complaint, Avenatti demanded Nike hire him to conduct an internal investigation for the enormous salary.

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York says Avenatti was representing a client who was the coach of an AAU Youth Club basketball team.  

Prosecutors say Avenatti gave Nike an option ... don't hire him but pay $22.5 million to resolve the dispute and buy his silence.

The complaint says Avenatti claimed the AAU coach had evidence that one or more Nike employees had funded payments to the families of top high school basketball players and attempted to conceal those payments.

According to prosecutors, there was a call on March 20 between Avenatti and Nike during which Avenatti said, "I'm not f**king around with this, and I'm not continuing to play games ... you guys know enough now to know you've got a serious problem ... So if you guys think that you know, we're gonna negotiate a million five, and you're gonna hire us to do an internal investigation, but it's gonna be capped at 3 or 5 or 7 million dollars, like let's just be done." 

Prosecutors say then Avenatti makes a threat ... "I'll go and I'll go take 10 billion dollars off your client's market cap. But I'm not f**king around." 

The U.S. Attorney says the call was recorded and there's video of a meeting between Avenatti and Nike attorneys on March 21. In that meeting, Avenatti allegedly said, "If [Nike] wants to have one confidential settlement and we're done, they can buy that for $22.5 million and we're done."

During that same meeting, prosecutors say Avenatti set a March 25 deadline and said, "If this is not papered on Monday, we are done. I don't want to hear about somebody on a bike trip. I don't want to hear that ... somebody's grandmother passed away or ... the dog ate my homework, I don't want to hear -- none of it is going to go anywhere unless somebody was killed in a plane crash."

Avenatti allegedly told Nike he had them by "the balls."

That's not the end of it ... Avenatti was just arrested for more federal crimes ... bank and wire fraud. The U.S. Attorney in the Central District of California claims Avenatti embezzled client money to cover expenses for his coffee corporation which operates Tully's Coffee stores in CA and Washington. 

As for allegations of bank fraud, prosecutors say Avenatti submitted false tax returns to a bank in Mississippi to get $4.1 million in loans. To get the loan, Avenatti claimed he had paid nearly $3 million in federal taxes in 2012 and 2013. Prosecutors say, in fact, Avenatti paid zero and still owed $850,438.

We reached out to Avenatti, but we could not get through.

Originally Published -- 10:23 AM PT

Elizabeth Warren Campaign Trail's Got Me Energized ... I Can Run For Anything

3/25/2019 6:04 PM PDT
EXCLUSIVE

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is in great shape to run ... and not just for President in 2020.

Senator Warren outran reporter Adam Glyn with ease Monday afternoon, booking it through NYC's Penn Station on her way to catch a train ... and as you can see and hear in the video, she wasn't out of breath when he finally caught up to her to ask about the Mueller report and next year's election.

Warren definitely sounds like a candidate -- you can tell by her comments on Robert Mueller -- and she's totally energized by her campaign, physically and mentally. We gotta give the 69-year-old Senator props for running through the crowd like Usain Bolt.

Check out the clip ... and try to resist the urge to go for a run!!!

Rob Kardashian & Blac Chyna Settle Child Support War ... Rob Catches Huge Break

3/25/2019 4:35 PM PDT
Exclusive Details

Rob Kardashian will no longer have to fork over heaps of cash to Blac Chyna every month ... in fact, he won't have to pay her at all.

Sources close to the former couple tell TMZ the two have hammered out a final custody agreement for their 2-year-old daughter, Dream. We're told Rob and Chyna will split custody 50/50 ... though Rob will likely have his daughter more of the time.

What's really incredible ... Rob was paying Chyna $20K per month in support and now he'll pay nothing. Our sources tell us the agreement states each parent will only pay for Dream's needs when she's with them ... and things like medical expenses and school will be split down the middle.

Sources familiar with the negotiations tell us on the day the final agreement was reached -- Chyna arrived several hours late and dressed to the nines -- in a look that was complete with pointy translucent fake green nails.

After the meeting wrapped, Chyna allegedly suggested to Rob the two should go out and grab margaritas ... an offer he immediately declined. 

It was back in February when it appeared the former couple's relationship was at least cordial. Rob tweeted, "Angela and I are both actively co-parenting and there are no pending or active custody cases." Chyna replied with, "Robert and I only concern is what's in the best interest of our daughter that we both equally love. Additionally, Robert is a wonderful father to our Dreamy!"

Rob and Chyna have a tumultuous history ... with accusations of abuse, public shaming and lawsuits. 

It appears all that is in the rear-view now, and Dream is their main priority. 

Jeanine Pirro, FOX News Big W Over DeRay Mckesson ... Defamation Suit Dismissed

3/25/2019 3:08 PM PDT
EXCLUSIVE

Black Lives Matter leader DeRay Mckesson is coming up short in his legal battle against Jeanine Pirro -- his defamation lawsuit has been tossed out of court.

The judge dismissed the case, according to docs filed Thursday in NY state, saying most of the statements Pirro made about Mckesson during a "FOX & Friends" appearance were her opinion ... and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

You'll recall ... DeRay sued Pirro and FOX News over comments she made back in 2017 when she essentially blamed him for inciting violence during a Baton Rouge protest. A police officer was injured during the incident, and Jeanine felt DeRay should've been held responsible for that.

The judge didn't exactly paint a flattering picture of Pirro's commentary, saying ... "Pirro's lack of temperament and caustic commentary is what she is known, celebrated, and frequently criticized for."

He added, while the court might not agree with or "condone her behavior or rhetoric" ... the law protects her expression of opinion.

Justin Bieber I Need to Fix 'Deep Rooted Issues' ... Taking Break From Music

3/25/2019 1:10 PM PDT

Justin Bieber is taking a step back from his music to focus on his health and his marriage ... because he wants to address some "deep rooted issues."

Justin just announced his plans to hit pause on his career and shift his focus to more important things, like Hailey Baldwin ... telling his fans, "music is very important to me but nothing comes before my family and my health."

The Biebs is sending a clear message to anyone clamoring him to release a new album ... saying, "I've toured my whole teenage life, and early 20s, I realized and as you guys probably saw I was unhappy last tour and I don't deserve that and you don't deserve that, you pay money to come and have a lively energetic fun light concert and I was unable emotionally to give you that near the end of the tour."

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So I read a lot of messages saying you want an album .. I’ve toured my whole teenage life, and early 20s, I realized and as you guys probably saw I was unhappy last tour and I don’t deserve that and you don’t deserve that, you pay money to come and have a lively energetic fun light concert and I was unable emotionally to give you that near the end of the tour. I have been looking, seeking, trial and error as most of us do, I am now very focused on repairing some of the deep rooted issues that I have as most of us have, so that I don’t fall apart, so that I can sustain my marriage and be the father I want to be. Music is very important to me but Nothing comes before my family and my health. I will come with a kick ass album ASAP, my swag is undeniable and my drive is indescribable his love is supernatural his grace is that reliable.... the top is where I reside period whether I make music or not the king said so. 👑 but I will come with a vengeance believe that.. (grammar and punctuation will be terrible pretend it’s a text where u just don’t care).

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Justin's comments come amid reports he's been getting treatment for depression. He addresses some of that by revealing, "I have been looking, seeking, trial and error as most of us do, I am now very focused on repairing some of the deep rooted issues that I have as most of us have, so that I don't fall apart, so that I can sustain my marriage and be the father I want to be."

Justin's not saying goodbye to the recording studio forever though ... he says, "I will come back with a kick ass album ASAP, my swag is undeniable and my drive is indescribable his love is supernatural his grace is that reliable." 

NFL Head Coaches Pic ... Can You Spot The White Guy?!?

3/25/2019 3:23 PM PDT
Breaking News

No, this is not the new Republican party intern photo ... it's the NFL's annual head coaches pic -- and as you can tell, it's overflowing with diversity. 

IMPORTANT FACT -- Mike Tomlin is missing from the photo ... but so are 5 other white coaches. 

As you can probably tell, there is DEFINITELY not enough black representation in the head coaching ranks ... something the NFL has acknowledged. 

The league has the Rooney Rule -- which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for every available head coaching job ... but as you can see, it ain't always effective. 

The good news ... there seems to be a crop of talented, young black assistant coaches who are all making compelling cases for a head coaching gig in the near future, including guys like Kris Richard, Eric Bieniemy and Teryl Austin

... but for now, this is it. 

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