Here's a dirty little Hollywood secret that may shock you to the core: Reality shows are totally fake. Don't believe me? Take Erika Jayne and ex-husband Tom Girardi. The Girardis first became famous in 2015 when Erika joined the cast of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." And while you might assume that this show's stars are required to be residents of the 90210 zip code, in actual reality, Tom and Erika lived about an hour away in the 91105 zip code. Aka Pasadena.
Let me say right now that even if you don't care at all about "The Housewives" and have never heard of Erika Jayne or Tom Girardi, you're going to find the story of their recent financial upheaval fascinating. Just a few years ago, Tom estimated his net worth at $264 million. He recently claimed to have no money at all and was forced into bankruptcy. Their financial upheaval caused the couple to break up and today they are seeking buyers for their Pasadena mansion. The list price? $13 million. All proceeds will reportedly go towards paying down roughly $60 million worth of debt.
The King of Class Actions
Tom Girardi earned his fortune through class action lawsuits against major corporations. His firm, Girardi & Keese, pioneered the practice of taking major cases on contingency. That's where clients paid no money up front and in return the lawyers would keep 25-40% of the final judgements amounts. These cuts made Tom extremely wealthy.
In one of Tom's most famous cases, he represented the residents of the town of Hinkley, California in a class action case against Pacific Gas & Electric. Tom and a team of lawyers sued PG&E, alleging that the company caused Hinkley residents to develop various forms of cancer after it contaminated local groundwater. Tom and his team were victorious. A jury ultimately awarded a $460 million judgment to be paid by PG&E to 650 residents of Hinkley. The case inspired the 2000 Julia Roberts film "Erin Brockovich".
Over the decades, Tom's law firm won literally billions of dollars for clients. His largest settlement was $4.85 billion paid by pharmaceutical company Merck, in connection to a pain medication called Vioxx.
In 2014 ,Tom was inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame.
In a 2015 loan application Tom estimated his personal net worth to be $264 million. That same year, wife Erika Jayne began starring on "The Real Housewives".
Tom and Erika have a 40-year age gap. When they married two decades ago, she was in her 20s and he was in his 60s. They met at a restaurant in Beverly Hills where she was working as a waitress.
On "The Real Housewives", Erika and Tom happily showed off their palatial 1.7-acre mansion… which as we mentioned was technically in Pasadena. They presented themselves as flying around on private planes, having millions of dollars worth of jewelry and spending nearly-unlimited amounts each month on personal luxuries.
Here's a video tour of their $13 mansion:
So what caused Erika and Tom's financial upheaval?
Today, Tom reportedly owes $57 million to various legal finance firms and hedge funds that lent him money over the years. In December 2020, the debts from these loans caused Girardi & Keese to file for bankruptcy. Subsequently Tom and Erika's assets were frozen. A month before the bankruptcy filing, Erika filed for divorce.
There were allegations of embezzlement and clients who claimed to have been shorted millions of dollars worth of settlement distributions. There were allegations that Tom and Erika used client funds to finance their lifestyle, which at one point included TWO private jets and $40,000 spent each month on Erika's hair, makeup and clothes.
In a 2020 deposition, Tom claimed:
"At one point, I had about $80 million or $50 million in cash. That's all gone. I don't have any money."
He also reportedly had $50 million worth of stocks at one point. According to court testimony, by the end of 2020 his stock portfolio was worth a negligible amount.
One particularly salacious accusation involves funds that were allegedly transferred to Erika in the years prior to the financial downfall. According to court testimony, a creditor claimed that Girardi transferred at least $20 million to Erika's entertainment company in prior years. Plaintiffs in the bankruptcy case claimed Tom and Erika's divorce was a "sham", and that she was sitting on that $20 million.
Unfortunately, even if creditors recover that $20 million + whatever proceeds are generated by this Pasadena house sale, they're still gonna be around $25 million short of the $57 million total alleged debt.
For her part, Erika is still listed as a main cast member of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills". Today she is apparently living in a $10k-per-month rental in an LA neighborhood called Hancock Park. Amazingly, she is still nowhere near Beverly Hills! Hancock Park is at least 30 minutes from Beverly Hills in the middle of the day with light traffic.