LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Disgraced former attorney Tom Girardi, co-founder of the defunct Los Angeles law firm Girardi Keese, appeared in federal court Monday and had a not-guilty plea entered on his behalf to charges of embezzling more than $15 million from several of his legal clients.
The 83-year-old Girardi -- estranged husband of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Erika Jayne -- has Alzheimer's disease and in June 2021 was deemed incompetent to manage his own affairs. He was disbarred a year later and is currently living in an Orange County assisted living facility.
During his appearance Monday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, Girardi was allowed to remain free on $250,000 bond.
Girardi was indicted last week by a grand jury on five counts of wire fraud, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. He is also charged in a second criminal case filed in Chicago, where he faces eight additional wire fraud counts.
When asked last week about Girardi's ability to stand trial in light of reports of his dementia, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said the defendant's competency "has not been evaluated by a federal criminal court."
Also charged in the indictment unsealed Wednesday was Christopher Kamon, 49, formerly of Encino and Palos Verdes, the firm's former chief financial officer.
The indictment alleges that, from 2010 to December 2020, Girardi and Kamon fraudulently obtained more than $15 million that belonged to the firm's clients.
Estrada said the defendants engaged in a "widespread scheme to steal from their clients and lie to them to cover up the fraud. In doing so, they allegedly preyed on the very people who trusted and relied upon them the most -- their clients."
Girardi's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
To conceal the theft and misappropriation of settlement money in the Los Angeles case, Girardi and Kamon allegedly lied to clients, stating falsely, among other things, that the funds had not been paid. Girardi also allegedly falsely told clients that settlement proceeds could not be disbursed until certain purported requirements had been met, such as eliminating purported tax obligations, obtaining supposedly necessary authorizations from judges, and satisfying medical liens and other debts.
Girardi became widely known when he was thanked in the credits of the 2001 Oscar-winning film "Erin Brockovich," for which he served as an adviser. The attorney was part of the legal team when Brockovich successfully sued Pacific Gas & Electric in 1993 for contaminating the groundwater of a small California town.
Estrada said that behind a public persona of integrity, for which he received numerous awards and commendations, Girardi was "robbing and stealing from those people he claimed to be championing" and "committing fraud on a massive scale."
After he was disbarred last year, the State Bar of California said it had received 205 complaints against Girardi alleging he misappropriated settlement money, abandoned clients and committed other serious ethical violations over the course of his four-decade career.
Girardi Keese, famous for representing plaintiffs in large-scale civil litigation against major corporations, collapsed in late 2020 after Girardi was accused in a Chicago lawsuit of embezzling money meant for clients the firm was representing in litigation over an airline crash in Indonesia. The lawsuit brought by plaintiffs' firm Edelson PC has since been transferred to Los Angeles.
Girardi is in Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings, as is the now- shuttered Wilshire Boulevard law firm that bore his name, which faces more than $500 million in claims.