A judge has just recommended that Erika Jayne‘s estranged husband Thomas Girardi face criminal investigation over embezzlement claims as his assets, as well as the assets of his law firm, Girardi Keese, were also frozen.
Over a month after the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member filed for divorce from the famed attorney, a judge in Illinois ruled that Thomas and his firm were in contempt after taking at least $2 million from a settlement fund meant for the widows and orphans of plane crash victims.
“This isn’t that difficult: You learned in law school, we all did, in Ethics 101, that when you get money that belongs to a client you put it in an escrow fund and you don’t touch it,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin said during a telephone hearing, according to a report shared by Law 360 on December 14. “No matter what your personal financial situation is, no matter what kind of pressures you’re under, if you touch client money you’re going to be disbarred and quite possibly charged criminally.”
In addition to referring the case to prosecutors, the judge said he would be placing Thomas and Girardi Keese under a trustee to protect his clients’ funds from the many who are attempting to collect on what they are owed after issuing a $2 million judgment against them.
During the hearing, Thomas only spoke to confirm his presence as his criminal defense attorney, Evan Jenness, said he appeared to be mentally incompetent and unable to shed any light onto where his clients’ funds may have gone. Meanwhile, Jay Edelson, the founder of Edelson PC, told the judge that Thomas’ claims of mental incompetence were a “sham.”
Jay, who initially sued Thomas and his firm earlier this month, claiming Thomas used his clients’ money to fund his and Erika’s lavish lifestyle, then said that four people are short $500,000 while a fifth may not have received any of the settlement money at all.
“What we have been uncovering through our investigation is that the Girardi firm has been running a Ponzi scheme for at least a decade,” Jay said. “What they do is when money comes in, they use that to pay previous creditors, previous clients, and then they wait until more money comes in. And what happened is, I guess everything just caught up with them. But this is not new behavior. This is consistent. They’ve been doing it for a decade.”
The report also revealed that California Attorney Lending could soon file for bankruptcy on behalf of Thomas’ firm.
According to a second report from the Los Angeles Times, Thomas’ attorney told the judge that Girardi Keese had just $15,000 in its accounts.
“They were unable to make payroll more recently,” she explained, citing “obligations and debts,” including his divorce battle with the RHOBH star.
“I’m unsure that he understands either the nature or the gravity of the current situation,” she noted, adding that Thomas should undergo a mental examination.
Still, Jay insisted that Thomas was competent, revealing that just last week, he attempted to avoid the contempt hearing by offering him money.
“These are widows and orphans,” he said. “Half a million dollars for any one of these families is significant money, life-changing given the tragedy they have been through and trying to carry on in the aftermath.”
No word yet on any further action regarding the disbarment of Thomas.