Disbarred L.A.-based lawyer Tom Girardi was hit with criminal charges in two states this week related to accusations he was stealing tens of millions of dollars from clients in a years-long Ponzi scheme that unraveled as his marriage to Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Jayne fell apart.
Girardi, 83, was not been arrested ahead of Wednesday’s announcement by federal prosecutors in California and Illinois and is set to appear on Monday in a downtown L.A. court regarding five counts of wire fraud related to clients he represented, including a man who never received settlement money after being burned over his entire body and another who was allegedly told his $53 million settlement was merely $7.25 million.
Girardi is due in Chicago federal court on Tuesday for an indictment on eight counts of wire fraud and four charges of failure to distribute a settlement for allegedly embezzling over $3 million awarded to the victims’ relatives in a deadly 2018 plane crash in the Java Sea.
On Monday, all eyes will be on how physically and mentally well Girardi appears; in 2021, his brother was appointed as his conservator following a psychiatrist’s report that the former attorney is incapacitated with Alzheimer’s disease and severe dementia. U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said Wednesday that Girardi has not yet been evaluated through the federal criminal court process but added that he was competent in the 10-year period he was allegedly defrauding his clients.
The longtime plaintiff’s lawyer, whose work inspired the Oscar-winning film Erin Brockovich and was a supporting player in the Housewives series, has been pictured in tabloids outside an assisted living home where he’s said to be residing.
The Pasadena mansion he shared with Jayne was sold through a court-appointed trustee for his now-bankrupt law firm and much of its contents have been auctioned off, with proceeds helping pay the more than $500 million he owes clients, former co-counsel and other creditors. Recently, a pair of $750,000 diamond earrings he bought Jayne were auctioned; they’d been purchased with settlement money meant for those harmed by the antidiabetic and anti-inflammatory drug Rezulin.
Approached by paparazzi on Wednesday while leaving the Burbank Town Center, Jayne teased a comment on her estranged husband’s legal troubles.
“You know, I have something to say, but not right now. You’ll hear from me soon,” said the reality TV personality, who filed for divorce in 2020 but when asked if she’s worried about her legal situation, she offered a nonchalant, “no.”
Girardi was indicted on Tuesday in the Los Angeles-based Central District of California alongwith his firm’s former chief financial officer, Christopher Kazuo Kamon, who has been in federal custody since his November arrest for allegedly stealing money from the firm in a separate scheme. Kamon is a co-defendant in the Chicago-based indictment alongside former firm partner David R. Lira, who is Girardi’s son-in-law.
“Mr. Girardi used that public persona to market his firm and market himself to get more and more clients to come to the firm. He claimed to be fighting for those who are less fortunate. But our investigation has revealed that behind this public persona, Mr. Girardi and Mr. Kamon were committing fraud on a massive scale,” Estrada said on Wednesday.
Estrada said an investigation into judges, mediators and arbitrators who aided Girardi is ongoing and wide-ranging.
“We are looking at all time frames and of course encouraging victims to come forward,” he said. “We have resources from the IRS. We have resources from the FBI. We have [assistant U.S. attorneys] form my office working diligently on this case. We’re continuing to pursue multiple angles in this investigation.”
Prosecutors say Girardi and Kamon used the stolen money to partially pay other clients who’d settlements they’d stolen, pay law firm expenses and to bankroll lavish personal expenses, including luxury car leases and country club memberships. The men allegedly concealed their crimes by lying to the victims and giving them a false sense of security that the attorneys were merely addressing legal requirements.
The Chicago indictment describes correspondence between Girardi and his clients regarding settlement money from Boeing over the Oct. 29, 2018, crash of Lion Air flight 610, which killed 189 people. Girardi sent one a letter in May 2020, writing, “I think you are going to love me in 30 days.” Prosecutors say that was Girardi’s way of “falsely implying and promising” that the client would soon see a payout.
The first client Girardi is accused of victimizing in the California case is a San Bruno man enlisted in 2010 to sue a public utility company for an explosion that severely burned him. Girardi settled his case for $53 million, but said it was only $7.25 million; the man was sent $2.5 million from an unrelated settlement. The second client lives in Arizona, and was due 67 percent of a $504,400 settlement over the death of her husband in a boating accident. After threatening to report Girardi to the California State Bar, she received only $150,000 in two payments from other settlements. Other fraud accusations against Girardi include a lawsuit against a medical provider over a defective device that damaged several organs and a couple who sued over a car crash that paralyzed their son from the neck down
The settlements for the five wire fraud charges amount to between $15,000 and $4 million, but the indictment puts the total amount stolen by Girardi and Kamon at “in excess of” $15 million. Girardi embezzled “tens of millions,” Estrada said.
Sentencing for wire fraud depends on the dollar amount involved.
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