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An ugly mess: The scandalous implosion of Erika Jayne and Tom Girardi
Even for hardcore fans of reality TV, Erika and Tom Girardi of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” proved to be quite the odd couple.
Erika, 49, is a socialite turned aspiring dance-music diva known for flaunting her taste for life’s finer things in songs such as “XXPen$ive,” in which she writhes on silk sheets tossing cold hard cash.
Tom, meanwhile, is the 81-year-old founder of the West Coast law firm Girardi & Keese, and was once called one of the “most successful plaintiff attorneys of the mass tort bar.”
Still, he seemed supportive of his third wife’s burgeoning music career. He hired her the best choreographers, songwriters and costume designers that money could buy, including those who had previously worked for Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson.
“That was an expensive video,” Erika told Tom over lunch on a 2017 episode of “RHOBH,” referring to “XXPen$ive,” which featured elaborate sets, dancers and over-the-top costumes.
“It was worth it,” he told his wife.
Fast forward to today and it’s unclear if he’d still feel the same way. On Nov. 3, Erika filed to divorce her husband of 21 years, and the pair stand accused by former clients in lawsuits of misappropriating millions of dollars in settlement money.
Earlier this month, Erika and Tom were sued by lawyers representing Boeing plane crash victims, who claimed they embezzled funds meant to go to families of those who lost their lives on Lion Air Flight 610.
Tom, who has denied allegations of financial impropriety and whose net worth was once said to be $264 million, now says he’s broke.
“At one point, I had about 80 million or 50 million in cash. That’s all gone,” Tom testified this fall. “I don’t have any money.”
It’s a stunning fall from grace for Tom, who won a record settlement for $333 million against Pacific Gas and Electric in 1996. The case later inspired the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich” starring Julia Roberts.
His reputation burnished by Hollywood, he’s since made a career out of defending underdogs at Girardi & Keese, the law firm he founded in 1965, years before his wife was born.
Despite his reputation as a champion of the downtrodden, Tom enjoyed immense wealth. Every courtroom victory, and there have been many, earned Tom up to 40 percent of the settlement, according to the LA Times. The couple’s over-the-top lifestyle included private jets and a Pasadena, Calif., estate said to be worth $15.5 million.
Erika certainly made no secret about enjoying their wealth, claiming on “RHOBH” that she spends $40,000 a month on hair and makeup.
Fans of the Bravo show certainly weren’t surprised by the split. Ever since Erika joined the cast in 2015, her marriage has been called into question, mostly because of the 33-year age gap.
“I’ve dealt with this forever: the younger woman that married the wealthier, older man,” Erika said earlier this year. She added, “Yeah I married a guy that’s 33 years older than me and yeah he’s got a lot of money, but you know what? He’s a f–king good man. And that is the most important thing.”
From the outside, it looked like Erika was a gold digger. The couple didn’t sign a prenup before their 1999 wedding.
The truth as to why their marriage is ending, however, might be more complicated.
The lawsuit called the split “a sham attempt to fraudulently protect Tom’s and Erika’s money from those that seek to collect on debts owed by Tom and his law firm.”
Girardi & Keese, it alleged, “are on the verge of financial collapse and locked in a downward spiral of mounting debts and dwindling funds.”
Representatives for Erika and Tom did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment.
Since then, Tom and his law firm have been sued by Wells Fargo Vendor Financial Services, which claimed that Tom failed to make payments on five lease agreements he had with the bank, totaling more than $880,000, according to Page Six.
The bad news doesn’t end there: Tom’s assets have been frozen, and he’s been held in contempt of court and sued by his law partner. Two of his creditors filed involuntary bankruptcy petitions against him and a lawyer for the plane crash victims accused him in court of running “a Ponzi scheme.”
Erika was a 25-year-old single mom when she first met Tom. She had moved to LA to start an acting career and, like most on the audition circuit, was making ends meet by waitressing at Chasen’s, the Beverly Hills celebrity haunt where Tom was an investor.
“He would be there quite often, especially upstairs near the private club where I worked,” Erika wrote in her 2018 memoir “Pretty Mess.”
The lawyer often met with clients and co-workers there, and dined with his children.
“What really attracted me to him was the way that he interacted with people. This man treats everybody with respect,” Erika wrote.
After a year of waiting on him, Erika slipped Tom her number. There was an instant connection.
“There was no getting to know you period. I had already met all of his children and his colleagues, even though it was in my capacity as a cocktail waitress,” she said.
After keeping the relationship a secret, Erika quit her job and moved into his mansion. They wed on a golf course six months later and she soon found herself playing the role of “first lady of a few legal organizations,” as she once put it on “RHOBH.”
Tom kept her in the loop with his legal proceedings, often asking her opinion on cases he had taken on. He also urged her to wait her turn during arguments.
His hefty paychecks certainly made life fun. “Tom has given me many things,” she said. “But the sweetest thing he’s ever done in my life is believe in me.”
But it wasn’t just his faith that helped launch Erika’s singing career, under the stage name Erika Jayne.
“The whole Erika Jayne project was only possible because I’m self-funded,” she wrote. “The haters are always going to say, ‘All you do is spend your husband’s money.’ First of all, it’s our money. Know how I know? Because the IRS tells us that it is. My name is on that tax return too.”
In 2007, Erika put out “Rollercoaster,” a clubby Madonna-esque single that actually hit the Billboard dance charts.
Her debut album, “Pretty Mess,” followed in 2009.
At the time, Erika had been contemplating giving up on her flagging music career.
“The return on investment wasn’t really making sense anymore,” she said.
But that quickly changed after she landed on Season 6 of “RHOBH,” alongside Lisa Rinna, Yolanda Hadid and Kyle Richards.
With a new audience at her fingertips, Erika instead doubled down on her recording career. Soon, she was on “Dancing With the Stars” showing off salsa moves set to her own music.
Erika’s stalled attempt at stardom may have finally been taking off, but cracks were beginning to appear in the facade of the venerable Girardi & Keese.
Tom was allegedly taking out loans, using expected legal fees for outstanding cases as collateral, according to court records seen by the LA Times.
At the same time, clients began accusing the law firm of cheating them out of funds — including the victim of a 2010 PG&E pipeline explosion.
Law Finance Group wrote in an affidavit that $20 million “denominated as ‘loans’ ” and lent to the firm were actually going to EJ Global LLC, which funded Erika’s music career.
In 2019, they sued Tom, stating that their money went to his “lavish lifestyle.”
Tom has denied the allegations but Girardi & Keese has imploded: At one time, the firm was 30 lawyers strong. Today, it no longer has a Web site.
Though the Boeing crash victims alleged the divorce is nothing but a financial tactic, Erika took to social media this week claiming that Tom cheated on her with a judge.
“This is Justice Tricia A. Bigelow. She was f – – king my husband Tom Girardi and he was paying her Saks bill and paying for her plastic surgery,” Erika wrote in an Instagram post that she subsequently deleted, which allegedly showed messages between the pair.
Bigelow’s attorney told the LA Times that the justice has been “in a committed relationship with her husband for more than four years.” The attorney said that Bigelow briefly dated Tom years ago before her marriage, but that she always recused herself from cases involving Tom or the lawyers from his firm.
Bigelow did not respond to The Post’s request for comment, but after the outburst, Erika’s attorneys were warned that she needed to stop selling her designer clothes, as they can be considered communal property because Tom bought them for her.
“You need to inform her of the danger that puts her in,” she was told, according to a recording of the proceedings.
The connection to her husband’s wallet may dry up quicker than she expected.
In the meantime, the reality star has continued to post selfies and glamour shots, though she knows that the life of a Real Housewife isn’t always pretty.
“When you sign your name on that paper, you’d better be prepared to look like a fool, to be made an idiot and not to be shown in your best light,” she wrote in her memoir.
“It’s an inevitability.”