Disbarred lawyer and estranged husband of 'Real Housewives' star is charged with stealing $18M; is he competent for trial?
Tom Girardi was disbarred in June 2022. Photo by Sipa USA via the Associated Press.
Disbarred plaintiffs’ lawyer Tom Girardi has been federally indicted in Chicago and Los Angeles for allegedly embezzling more than $18 million from clients.
Girardi, 83, is the estranged husband of Erika Girardi, who appeared on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reality TV show. He was also an adviser to the movie Erin Brockovich and part of the successful legal team portrayed in the film that sued over contaminated groundwater, according to the New York Times. His now-defunct California law firm was Girardi Keese.
In Los Angeles, Girardi is charged with five counts of wire fraud for allegedly embezzling more than $15 million from several clients, according to a Feb. 1 press release summarizing an indictment unsealed Wednesday. Prosecutors allege that he negotiated settlements on behalf of clients and then lied about how much money he recovered and how the proceeds were distributed.
Settlement money was used to pay other clients whose funds had been misappropriated, to pay Girardi Keese’s payroll and to pay credit card bills for Girardi’s personal expenses, prosecutors alleged.
In Chicago, Girardi is charged with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of criminal contempt, according to a Feb. 1 press release. He is accused of misappropriating more than $3 million in settlement funds for five relatives of victims killed in the October 2018 crash of Indonesia’s Lion Air Flight 610.
Also charged in Chicago are former Girardi Keese lawyer David R. Lira, 62, and former Girardi Keese controller and chief financial officer Christopher Kazuo Kamon, 49. They are charged with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of criminal contempt of court in the Chicago indictment. Kamon is also accused of working with Girardi to facilitate the embezzlement in the California indictment.
Lira is Girardi’s son-in-law, the New York Times reports.
Other publications covering the indictments include Law360, Law.com, Reuters, Courthouse News Service and Bloomberg Law.
Kamon was arrested in November on a federal charge of wire fraud when he returned to the United States from the Bahamas. He was charged in a criminal complaint with running a “side fraud” scheme at Girardi Keese.
Damon Cheronis, Lira’s lawyer, told the New York Times that his client will plead not guilty.
“David Lira is not Tom Girardi—he did not steal from his clients and he should not be criminally charged for Girardi’s misconduct,” Cheronis said.
There could be a court battle over Girardi’s fitness to stand trial and his mental capacity when the crimes happened, given his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, Law360 reports.
During a press conference, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada of Los Angeles said prosecutors think that Girardi was competent during the time of the alleged embezzlement, which was from 2010 to 2020.
Criminal defense lawyer Frank Perri, an adjunct professor at DePaul University, told Law360 that defendants found incompetent for trial are treated in hopes that they will become competent. But they could also be found to be permanently unfit.
“I’ve had clients in that age group who have been found unfit and they are not ever going to be found fit,” Perri told Law360. “It’s just not going to happen.”
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ABAJournal.com: “‘Real Housewives’ lawyer had close ties to some state bar officials, never faced ethics charges despite accusations”
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ABAJournal.com: “Disbarment recommended for Tom Girardi, lawyer whose law firm was portrayed in ‘Erin Brockovich’ movie”