California Attorneys Charged With Misappropriating Settlement Funds Intended for Relatives of Victims of Lion Air Flight 610
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois
CHICAGO — Two California attorneys were indicted today on federal fraud charges for allegedly misappropriating more than $3 million in settlement funds intended for relatives of victims killed in the crash of Lion Air Flight 610.
An indictment returned in U.S. District Court in Chicago charges attorneys THOMAS V. GIRARDI, 83, of Pasadena, Calif., and DAVID R. LIRA, 62, of Pasadena, Calif., both of whom worked for the California law firm Girardi Keese, with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of criminal contempt of court. The indictment also charges a third defendant, CHRISTOPHER K. KAMON, 49, of Palos Verdes, Calif., and Encino, Calif., who worked as Girardi Keese’s head of accounting and finance, with the same offenses. Arraignments in federal court in Chicago have not yet been scheduled.
The indictment was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Corey B. Rubenstein and Emily Vermylen.
“The substantial misappropriation alleged in this indictment compounded the grief and anguish of the clients who lost loved ones in the Lion Air crash,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “Attorneys who violate the trust of their clients and breach a fiduciary duty that is paramount to the practice of law must be held accountable.”
“The victims of this crime placed their faith in their attorneys during a time of great vulnerability,” said FBI SAC Wheeler. “Taking advantage of victims of tragedy is a despicable act, and we will continue to seek justice for anyone who takes advantage of innocent Americans in their hour of need.”
According to the indictment, Girardi and Lira, through Girardi Keese, represented five clients who were relatives of passengers killed in the 2018 crash in the Java Sea. Girardi Keese filed lawsuits in federal court in Chicago against the plane’s manufacturer, Boeing Co., and settled the suits in 2020. Boeing’s counsel wired the settlement funds to Girardi Keese’s trust account, with most of the money intended for the clients. The charges allege that Girardi, Lira, and Kamon misappropriated more than $3 million of the settlement funds by diverting the money for improper purposes, including paying the firm’s payroll and operating expenses, and funding settlements to other Girardi Keese clients, whose own settlement funds had been misappropriated by the firm.
Girardi, Lira, and Kamon fraudulently attempted to conceal their misappropriation from the clients, the indictment states. At one point they falsely told the clients that the Covid‑19 pandemic prevented the firm from distributing the settlement funds, while at other times they falsely claimed that “serious issues” had arisen with Boeing that delayed the distributions, the indictment states. The defendants made the false claims knowing Girardi Keese had already received the settlement funds from Boeing, the indictment states.
The indictment seeks forfeiture from the defendants in the amount of $3,069,500.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, the Court must impose reasonable sentences under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Each count of wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison, while the maximum penalty for each contempt count is determined by the Court.
Updated February 1, 2023