California lawyer Tom Girardi charged with stealing client funds
Feb 1 (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors in Chicago and Los Angeles on Wednesday filed criminal charges against disbarred California attorney Tom Girardi, accusing him of taking more than $18 million in funds belonging to his firm's clients.
Prosecutors in Los Angeles charged Girardi, 83, with five counts of wire fraud for allegedly embezzling $15 million from 2010 to 2020, while prosecutors in Chicago charged him with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of criminal contempt of court. Girardi's legal battle against Pacific Gas & Electric Co inspired the Oscar-winning film "Erin Brockovich."
Chicago prosecutors alleged that Girardi misappropriated more than $3 million in client funds owed to families of the victims of the 2018 Boeing (BA.N) 737 MAX Lion Air Flight 610 crash in Indonesia. The crash killed all 189 onboard.
In the Los Angeles case, prosecutors alleged that Girardi took money from clients who were injured in car crashes, including one family whose child was paralyzed in a crash.
Christopher Kamon, the former chief financial officer of Girardi's now-defunct law firm Girardi Keese, was also charged in the Chicago and Los Angeles cases.
"They were committing fraud on a massive scale," Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said during a Wednesday news conference.
Girardi's son-in-law, David Lira, who worked at the firm, was charged with wire fraud and criminal contempt of court by the Chicago prosecutors.
Damon Cheronis, an attorney representing Lira, said his client is innocent and will plead not guilty.
Girardi has been summoned to appear in Los Angeles federal court on Monday. Girardi, Lira and Kamon are set to be arraigned in Chicago federal court on Tuesday.
Girardi's legal and personal affairs are now handled by his brother Robert, a dentist. Robert Girardi has asserted that his brother is mentally incompetent, and a psychiatrist said he has Alzheimer's disease.
Robert Girardi did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. An attorney for Kamon also was not immediately available to comment on the charges.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles U.S. attorney's office said Girardi's competency to stand trial "has not yet been litigated in this case and we expect it will be."
Girardi and his wife, "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Erika Jayne Girardi, were sued in 2020 in federal court in Chicago by another law firm in the Lion Air case that alleged they misused client funds. Erika Jayne Girardi denied the claims.
The California Supreme Court disbarred Girardi in June in connection with his alleged conduct in the Lion Air case. Girardi never formally responded to the state bar's disciplinary charges.
Kamon was separately charged with wire fraud in November for allegedly embezzling $10 million from the defunct Girardi Keese firm. He has pleaded not guilty.
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