Erika and Tom Girardi's Legal Troubles Examined in The Housewife and the Hustler: Biggest Moments
The ABC News Originals documentary about the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star and her estranged husband is streaming on Hulu
In the special, streaming now on Hulu, various legal experts and those accusing Tom of embezzlement and questionable legal practices discuss the scandals surrounding the former couple, all of which came to light following Erika's divorce filing last year. The Housewife and the Hustler also features voicemail messages, court records and a never-before-aired deposition tape of Tom, 82.
The documentary chronicles Tom's career and life with the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star, 49, whom he wed in 1999. The famed attorney came under fire shortly after Erika announced their split last November. A month later, he and Erika were sued for allegedly using their divorce to embezzle money intended for the families of victims killed in a 2018 Boeing plane crash.
Here are five highlights.
Tom and Erika's openness about their wealth was uncommon in the legal world.
The documentary describes Tom as being well-known in the legal community for his deep connections and ability to win multi-million dollar settlements (he famously worked on the landmark case that inspired the Erin Brockovich movie). The lawyer's success also made his law firm Girardi Keese's lavish Christmas parties and annual conferences in Las Vegas legendary around town.
"It made me think that I probably should have gone to law school," Kelly Carter, a senior entertainment reporter for The Undefeated, a sports and pop culture website, said in the doc. "I didn't know that you could attain that much wealth by being a trial attorney."
But when Erika joined RHOBH in 2015, many people in the Los Angeles legal community were surprised by how open the two were about their extravagant wealth and spending habits.
"Probably most appalling was the talk about the fact that they had two airplanes," said attorney Brian Kabateck. "That's, I think, crossing the line in what we do. We represent people who are victimized by big corporations and rich people. Here you're putting it out that you're super wealthy and that you're basically 'the man.' ... You don't want to be 'the man.'"
A California family claims Tom stole from them.
While the documentary highlighted several stories of individuals who claim they were wronged by Tom, one man, Joe Ruigomez, gave a detailed account of his experience working with the attorney — and how he believes Tom swindled him and his family of their settlement money.
Joe's family hired Tom after he was critically injured in the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in 2010.
"We thought he could win [the case for us]," said Joe's sister, Jamie. "We didn't know how much of a snake he would be along the way."
After settling the lawsuit for the Ruigomez family in 2013, Tom allegedly suggested that he put the multi-million dollar settlement in one of his investments and dispense the money monthly. But after the family stopped receiving payments from the settlement, they became suspicious about where their money was. Joe said Tom became increasingly difficult to reach and failed to give straight answers when they asked about the money.
"He would be like, 'Oh, sorry about that. These things happen. I'll get it to you next week,'" Joe alleged. "And half the time the check would come when he'd say so — the second time — and half the time it wouldn't."
Joe claims by 2017, the payments "disappeared completely," prompting the family to file a lawsuit in order to obtain the remaining funds. Tom allegedly agreed to pay them $12 million, signing a document saying he would make a $1 million initial payment, followed by a second payment of $2.5 million. "He never got to the second payment," Joe's mother, Kathy, claimed.
According to the documentary, the family took Tom back to court and is now "among the first in line to collect their settlement money from the bankruptcy" case.
Tom's all-powerful presence couldn't be ignored.
In 2014, Kim Archie, a Ruigomez family friend and former legal consultant at Girardi Keese, lost her son in a motorcycle accident. When she decided to file a wrongful death lawsuit, she said no other lawyer would take her case due to her connection to Tom.
"They didn't want to step on Tom Girardi's toes," she said.
"Who are we going to call? We can't all the D.A., that's Tom's friends," she added. "We can't go to the Chief of Police, that's Tom's friend. You can't go to the California Attorney General, that's Tom's friend. You can't go the California bar, that's Tom friends."
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Tom admitted last year that he didn't "have any money."
One of the biggest moments in the documentary is a clip from Tom's deposition tape for the Ruigomez case recorded on Sep. 23, 2020, in which he said he was broke.
"At one point I had about $80 million or $50 million in cash," Tom said. "That's all gone. I don't have any money."
While Erika was subpoenaed to give her own deposition about the former couple's finances in May 2020, her hearing dates were postponed.
"If you were to ask me in 2019 who would come out paying who in this divorce, I'd probably say that Erika would be getting a lot of money from Tom," said Brandon Lowrey, a reporter at Law360. "But at this point, she's earning more than Tom is, and she probably has more assets than he does. She could come out on top, or she could get dragged in and end up in a whole lot of debt."
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What did Erika know about Tom's legal dealings?
One of the biggest questions posed in the documentary — and on the current season of RHOBH — is how much Erika knew when it came to Tom's legal woes.
"Tom and Erika, they're stuck together in these bankruptcy proceedings. A lot of these debts, that they owe in bankruptcy proceedings, [they] owe together, possibly," Lowrey said. "It's going to be hard for her to say to she didn't know that anything was going on."
Erika has not legally been charged with any crimes and has not publicly commented on any of the proceedings.
The Housewife and the Hustler is streaming on Hulu.