LOS ANGELES – Former plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyer Thomas Vincent Girardi has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly embezzling more than $15 million from several of his legal clients, the Justice Department announced today.
Girardi, 83, of Seal Beach, who owned the downtown Los Angeles-based Girardi Keese law firm, is charged with five counts of wire fraud, a crime that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
Girardi, a once-powerful figure in California’s legal community until creditors forced his law firm into bankruptcy in December 2020, is expected to appear on Monday, February 6 at the United States District Court for arraignment. The State Bar of California disbarred Girardi in July 2022.
Also charged in the indictment unsealed today is Christopher Kazuo Kamon, 49, formerly of Encino and Palos Verdes and who was residing in The Bahamas at the time of his November 2022 arrest on a federal criminal complaint. He remains in federal custody.
Kamon was the controller and chief financial officer of Girardi Keese from 2004 until December 2020. In this role, Kamon oversaw the law firm’s financial affairs, supervised its accounting department, and oversaw paying the firm’s expenses.
The indictment alleges that, from 2010 to December 2020, Girardi and Kamon fraudulently obtained more than $15 million that belonged to Girardi Keese clients.
“Mr. Girardi and Mr. Kamon stand accused of engaging in a widespread scheme to steal from their clients and lie to them to cover up the fraud,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “In doing so, they allegedly preyed on the very people who trusted and relied upon them the most—their clients. Actions like the ones alleged in the indictment bring disrepute upon the legal profession and will not be tolerated by my office.”
“Mr. Girardi and Mr. Kamon allegedly created a mirage over several years in order to disguise the fact that they were robbing Girardi Keese clients of large sums of money” said Amir Ehsaei, the Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The defendants exploited the hardships endured by their clients and took advantage of their unfamiliarity with the legal process while they denied victims what was rightfully due to them in order to fund their lavish lifestyles.”
“Thomas Vincent Girardi should have been a pillar to our community. Instead, he is accused of creating an elaborate scheme to mislead his clients, victimizing them for a second time,” said Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher of the IRS Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Attorneys are put in a position of trust when they represent us during some of our most difficult times. Mistrust in the legal profession grows when clients can’t trust their attorneys to pay them the settlements intended to make them whole. IRS Criminal Investigation, along with federal prosecutors and our law enforcement partners, will continue to seek to keep the legal profession honest.”
In furtherance of their alleged scheme to defraud, Girardi negotiated settlements on behalf of clients, but then allegedly concealed the settlement’s true terms and lied about the disposition of the settlement proceeds.
Girardi and Kamon would allegedly cause the settlement proceeds to be deposited in or transferred to attorney trust accounts to which both men had access. Girardi and Kamon then embezzled and misappropriated settlement funds from these accounts for improper purposes, including paying other Girardi Keese clients whose settlement funds had previously been misappropriated and paying Girardi Keese’s payroll and other expenses. These additional expenses included credit card bills for Girardi and Kamon’s personal expenses.
To conceal the theft and misappropriation of client settlement money, Girardi and Kamon allegedly lied to clients, stating falsely, among other things, that the settlement money 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 and Kamon allegedly also sent lulling payments to clients, falsely representing that the payments were “advances” on purportedly yet-to-be-received settlement proceeds that, in fact, had already been deposited in Girardi Keese accounts, or were “interest payments” on the settlement money that purportedly could not be paid to the clients until the fabricated requirements were met.
For example, in July 2019, Girardi negotiated a $17.5 million settlement of a lawsuit related to injuries sustained in a car accident by two clients and their child, who was paralyzed in the crash. The settlement agreement specified that the child’s portion of the settlement money would be placed in a trust and an annuity to be controlled by a third party, neither of which could be accessed by Girardi and Kamon.
The first installment of the settlement payment – $4 million – was transferred to a bank account that Girardi and Kamon controlled. Prior to that deposit, Girardi and Kamon allegedly transferred $1.45 million as a purported “advance” from the clients’ settlement funds. The indictment alleges that, in fact, this was money that came from different Girardi Keese clients. Girardi and Kamon then allegedly used the funds to pay for the law firm’s operating expenses unrelated to the car accident litigation.
On July 1, 2019, Girardi and Kamon allegedly caused a $2.5 million check that mostly was comprised of the car accident clients’ settlement money to be issued to a different client over half of whose $53 million settlement Girardi and Kamon had misappropriated years earlier.
In August 2019, a further payment of approximately $5,119,449 was deposited into a Girardi-controlled bank account. To lull the victim clients and prevent them from discovering that their settlement money had been misappropriated, Girardi and Kamon allegedly provided incremental lulling payments that comprised only a fraction of what the clients were owed.
Girardi also allegedly lied to the clients, telling them that the remaining settlement funds could only be paid after medical liens had been satisfied, court proceedings had concluded and Girardi had flown to Washington, D.C., to meet with government officials to remove the settlement’s tax liability. In fact, all of this information was false and Girardi had embezzled their settlement money, the indictment alleges.
In a separate matter, on January 19, Kamon was charged via information with wire fraud for allegedly embezzling funds in Girardi Keese’s custody and control and using them for his personal expenses, including for renovations on Kamon’s personal residences in Palos Verdes and Encino, travel, shopping and escort services. Trial in that matter is scheduled for March 14.