Entertainment

Why Is Erika Jayne of ‘RHOBH’ Being Accused of Embezzlement?

The reality star is embroiled in a shady legal battle. We explain it all.
Alex Zaragoza
Brooklyn, US
December 4, 2020, 10:21pm
What's The Deal With 'RHOB'  Erika Jayne's Embezzlement Accusations?
Credit: Kathy Boos/Bravo

"Being broke sucks and being rich is a lot better," Erika Girardi, otherwise known as Erika Jayne, once exclaimed into a camera during a confessional interview on her show, Bravo's Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The reality star with an expensive side career as a dance-pop artist certainly lives lavishly. But a new lawsuit and her divorce from husband Tom Girardi put the microscope on where all that money spent on Louboutins and Balmain latex catsuits is coming from. There are accusations that the couple is using their impending divorce to protect their assets following a lawsuit filed by lawyers representing the families of the victims of the Lion Air Flight 610 plane crash. The documents allege that Girardi and her husband, who represented these families in a class-action lawsuit, embezzled funds owed to his clients in order to continue funding their extravagant lifestyle. Hoo boy.

First off, some background

The Real Housewives star and Georgia native comes from humble beginnings. In one episode last season, Girardi took her co-stars to the seedy dive bar where she once worked as a dancer when she first arrived in New York as an 18-year-old with nothing more than her big blonde hair and even bigger dreams. That jaunt illustrated how far the millionaire TV star, who was in NYC to begin her starring role as Roxie Hart in Chicago, had come. Much of that boost in her circumstances came from her much older husband, personal injury attorney Tom Girardi, whom she met while working as a cocktail waitress in LA. Tom is famously known for working on the team representing residents of Hinckley, California, against PG&E, the gas and electric company responsible for groundwater contamination. The landmark case was the basis for the film Erin Brockovich.

Tom, 81, and Erika married in 1999. She joined the cast of RHOBH in its sixth season in 2015. The couple's May through December romance sparked some shady talk among the cast, but Erika, who is 49, always made it clear that she knew she married well, but that she very much loved her husband. "I mean, I'm tired of having to justify my 20-year marriage," she exasperatedly said last season of RHOBH. "Go get a 20-year marriage, then come fucking talk to me."

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Then in November, the couple announced they were separating. "This is not a step taken lightly or easily," she said in a statement. "I have great love and respect for Tom and for our years and the lives we built together."

Seems normal, no?

Celebrities get divorced all the time. However, this case took a juicy turn when allegations that the divorce is a sham to protect Tom and Erika's dwindling assets came to light this week.

According to a complaint filed in Illinois federal court this week, both Tom and Erika are being sued by the law firm of Edelson PC on behalf of several families of the victims of the Lion Air Flight 610 plane crash that killed 189 passengers and crew flying out of Jakarta on October 29, 2018. Per the lawsuit, Erika and Tom are being accused of embezzling funds meant for the families of the victims of the plane crash, using the divorce to hide and divert their assets. 

The complaint, which PEOPLE obtained, also claims that the Girardis, and Tom's law firm, Girardi & Keese, are on the brink of collapse, and that the embezzlement was all for the sake of continuing to live their high-end lifestyle.

"Tom has resorted to embezzling the proceeds of settlements that should have been directed to his clients—including, as the basis for this Complaint, the widows and orphans who lost loved ones in the tragic crash of Lion Air Flight 610—in order to continue funding his and Erika’s lavish Beverly Hills lifestyles," PEOPLE reports the complaint reads.

Yikes. That seems sketchy.

Sure does, friend! As Girardi tweeted this week, it is high drama. (The Girardis have yet to respond publicly to the allegations.)

Erika is far from the only Beverly Hills housewife to have her finances dragged into court. Former RHOBH star Lisa Vanderpump has spent a considerable amount of time in court over various legal claims, including fraud surrounding her dog adoption agency, and violating California laws protecting workers. Both cases in the labor violation lawsuits and the fraud charges are ongoing though Vanderpump and her husband Ken Todd deny all claims. Co-star Dorit Kemsley and her husband P.K. recently settled a lawsuit filed against them by her former business partner in her beachwear line. The Kemsleys denied any wrongdoing but were ordered to pay nearly $30,000 to the plaintiffs in the matter.

Beverly Hills is filming now, but the infamously guarded star will likely skirt the issue in the next season, as is customary with all the wives in this particular franchise. Reps for Erika and Tom did not respond to VICE's request for comment.