Tom Girardi, the once-vaunted Los Angeles trial attorney, was indicted by federal grand juries in two states on fraud charges that allege he swindled more than $18 million from several clients who had endured catastrophic injuries or tragic deaths of loved ones, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
In Chicago, Girardi and his son-in-law, attorney David Lira, and the former chief financial officer of Girardi’s law firm, Christopher Kamon, were charged with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of contempt of court. Prosecutors said the trio had misappropriated more than $3 million in settlement funds meant for widows and orphans whose relatives had perished in a Boeing plane crash off the coast of Indonesia.
In Los Angeles, Girardi was charged with wire fraud in an indictment that accuses him of embezzling more than $15 million from clients and using the funds to cover his law firm’s payroll and pay his personal expenses, including a hefty American Express bill and fees at two country clubs. The L.A. case also includes charges against Kamon, the former CFO, and indicates that he and his boss “devised, participated in, and executed a scheme to defraud victim clients” from 2010 until the firm, Girardi Keese, collapsed in late 2020.
The prosecution marks the latest chapter in the stunning downfall of an attorney who cultivated close ties with mayors, governors, senators, judges and Supreme Court justices, and who was revered — and feared — by fellow attorneys in California and beyond for the landmark settlements he brokered and the powerful officials he called his friends.
The pair of indictments follows extensive reporting by The Times on how Girardi corrupted the legal system for financial gain and eluded discipline by the State Bar of California — the entity that regulates attorneys — despite decades of credible accusations of misappropriating his clients’ money.
“Mr. Girardi was widely celebrated for being a champion of those fighting against corporations, but our investigation has revealed that, in fact, Mr. Girardi was robbing and stealing from those people,” Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney in L.A., said at a news conference Wednesday. Estrada said the charges point to “corruption by one of the most high-profile plaintiff’s lawyers in the country.”
“He claimed to be fighting for those who are less fortunate,” Estrada added, “but our investigation has revealed that behind this public persona, Mr. Girardi and Mr. Kamon were committing fraud on a massive scale.”
In Chicago, U.S. Atty. John R. Lausch Jr. said of Lira and Girardi: “Attorneys who violate the trust of their clients and breach a fiduciary duty that is paramount to the practice of law must be held accountable.”
Representatives for Girardi, Lira and Kamon did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Girardi was expected to appear in federal court in downtown L.A. on Monday.
Between the two cases, Girardi faces 13 counts of wire fraud; each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The prosecution of the 83-year-old former attorney, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease by a physician in March 2021, sets the stage for a legal battle over whether Girardi is fit to stand trial.
Now living in a memory care facility in Orange County, Girardi is subject to a court-ordered conservatorship that gives his younger brother, Robert, a dentist in Seal Beach, authority to make decisions for him about healthcare and finances. Conservatorship records indicate that Girardi has been prescribed medication for dementia and is also suffering from blindness in one eye and “hearing issues.”
In L.A. legal circles, many have questioned whether the court legend claimed dementia to avoid the consequences of his misconduct. The first assertion that he has serious cognitive problems was through a criminal defense lawyer at a December 2020 hearing where a federal court judge was confronting him with evidence that he had stolen millions from clients.
Officials from the State Bar of California even went to court to challenge the conservatorship a few weeks after the diagnosis, saying that the proceeding was occurring under “highly unusual circumstances” and that the evidence of impairment was “sparse.” In a filing, they noted that in the month before the claim of cognitive problems, Girardi had hosted a continuing education class for lawyers on complex litigation strategies. Agency officials asked for more extensive neurological testing for the lawyer, but the request was denied.
Asked about Girardi’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis on Wednesday, Estrada said: “We leave it for the court to determine competency issues.”
He noted that the indictment charges conduct from 2010 to 2020, when Girardi was a practicing attorney. “We believe the evidence shows his competency during that time,” Estrada said.