Husband of 'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' star Erika Jayne indicted in Chicago
CHICAGO - A Hollywood scandal involving millions of dollars allegedly stolen from the families of Lion Air Flight 610 crash victims continued to play out in Chicago on Wednesday, where a federal grand jury indicted the estranged husband of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Erika Jayne.
Former celebrity lawyer Thomas Girardi, 83, is charged with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of criminal contempt of court for allegedly diverting more than $3 million in settlement money stemming from the October 2018 plane crash in order to fund his California law firm, Girardi Keese.
Also charged are onetime Girardi Keese lawyer David Lira, 62, and 49-year-old Christopher Kamon, who served as the firm’s head of accounting and finance. All three are set to be arraigned Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cummings in Chicago, though prosecutors asked that the hearing occur by video.
Girardi and Kamon also face charges in a separate indictment returned in Los Angeles, which alleges a broader theft of clients’ funds.
Lira’s Chicago-based attorney, Damon Cheronis, told the Sun-Times in a statement that "David Lira was not involved in a scheme to defraud — he is innocent of these charges.
"Mr. Lira is a well-respected lawyer and has been for over three decades," Cheronis wrote. "He plans on entering a plea of not guilty to all the charges and we intend on defending the case vigorously."
Lawyers for Girardi and Kamon were not listed in court records.
Jayne is not charged in either indictment. But she and Girardi have been embroiled in the scandal for more than two years, and it has become an ongoing "Real Housewives" storyline. Jayne filed for divorce in 2020.
Girardi made a name for himself by taking on powerful corporations and public institutions, including in a case that inspired the 2000 Julia Roberts film "Erin Brockovich."
But U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin in Chicago wound up holding Girardi in civil contempt in December 2020 when Girardi couldn’t explain what happened to at least $2 million meant for the Lion Air crash victims’ families.
The judge said then that he planned to refer the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago. And he told lawyers that the "simple way to cure all of this" was to pay at least four clients he said were each owed a half-million dollars.
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"These are widows and orphans," Durkin said at the time. "Half a million dollars for any one of these families is a significant amount of money. Life changing, given the tragedy they went through."
The Lion Air aircraft that crashed into the Java Sea in October 2018 was manufactured by Boeing, which was based in Chicago. All 189 people on board were killed.
The new Chicago indictment alleges that Girardi Keese represented five of the flight’s victims, and certain family members, in lawsuits that were then filed in federal court here.
Four of the clients agreed to settle their cases with Boeing for a total of $11 million, while the fifth client agreed to settle for $1.5 million, according to the Chicago indictment.
Boeing wired settlement funds into a trust account in March and June of 2020, with $8.6 million due to the five clients, the indictment states.
But instead of paying the clients, the feds say the men began using the money to fund payroll and other Girardi Keese operating expenses, and to pay other clients whose own settlement funds had been stolen by Girardi Keese.
Along the way, the men allegedly falsely claimed that the COVID-19 pandemic and other "serious issues" delayed and prevented the distribution of the settlement money.
Girardi allegedly sent a letter to one client in May 2020 in which he suggested the balance of their settlement funds would arrive in about a month.
"I think you are going to love me in 30 days," Girardi allegedly wrote.