A pair of federal grand juries indicted a prominent Southern California attorney and accused him of stealing millions of dollars from scores of sympathetic victims, court documents revealed Wednesday.
Thomas Girardi, 83, who is married to "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" cast member Erika Jayne, 51, was hit with a 12-count indictment in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Girardi's law partner Christopher Kamon and David Lira, the head of the firm's accounting and finance department, were also charged with 12 criminal counts.
Nine counts allege wire fraud and three allege misconduct by court officers, stemming from allegations that the defendants failed to distribute money owed to their clients.
The charges in Chicago are connected to the firm’s dealings with five clients, who lost loved ones in the Lion Air crash that killed 189 people in 2018.
The firm had secured a $11 million settlement for four clients and a $1.55 million deal for a fifth, according to the indictment.
The defendants used much of the money to pay firm expenses, including payroll, charges on an American Express card and distributions to other clients “whose own settlement funds previously had been misappropriated” by the defendants, the indictment alleges.
A grand jury in the Central District of California charged Girardi and Kamon with five counts each of wire fraud, alleging they siphoned massive amounts of money from five highly sympathetic clients:
- The defendants secured a $53 million settlement for a San Bruno, California, client, who was severely injured in a natural gas explosion. But Girardi is alleged to have told the client that the settlement was for only $7.25 million.
- A Havasu City, Arizona, client's husband was killed in a boating accident, and Girardi is alleged to have used part of a $504,000 settlement "to make payments to two exclusive country clubs."
- The defendants helped a Los Angeles resident and the client's son, who was paralyzed car crash, secure a $17.5 million settlement. But the defendants paid only part of that total to clients and falsely claimed that tax issues, nonexistent court proceedings and past medical bills were slowing distribution, according to the indictment.
U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada, who runs federal prosecutions out of the Los Angeles-based Central District of California, said the defendants targeted vulnerable clients who invested great trust in their lawyers.
“Mr. Girardi and Mr. Kamon stand accused of engaging in a widespread scheme to steal from their clients and lie to them to cover up the fraud,” Estrada said in statement.
“In doing so, they allegedly preyed on the very people who trusted and relied upon them the most — their clients. Actions like the ones alleged in the indictment bring disrepute upon the legal profession and will not be tolerated by my office.”
The legal drama involving Girardi and his wife played out on the hit Bravo reality show.
One story line of the past season closely followed a pair of diamond earrings prized by Girardi's wife, which some of her fellow "Housewives" believed she should surrender to fraud victims.
Even before his tangential role on "Housewives," Girardi was one of the best-known and most respected attorneys in Southern California.
“Thomas Vincent Girardi should have been a pillar to our community. Instead, he is accused of creating an elaborate scheme to mislead his clients, victimizing them for a second time,” Tyler Hatcher, the special agent in charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation's Los Angeles field office, said in a statement.
Girardi is expected to surrender to authorities on Monday, two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said. Girardi's attorney could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.
Court records did not indicate who Girardi’s co-defendants had tapped to represent them in these federal cases.