Shortly after they started dating, Tom Girardi gifted cocktail waitress and aspiring actress Erika Chahoy a pair of $800,000 diamond earrings.
“It was the first important gift I had given him,” Girardi recalled years later to tax authorities.
The earrings set the tone for the private jet, high fashion lifestyle the pair would enjoy as a married couple.
Now, with the disappearance of the Girardi’s relationship and fortune, the jewelry became a plot point in the quest to untangle the disgraced lawyer’s finances.
The trustee in charge of the bankruptcy of Girardi’s famous company, Girardi Keese, has decided to seize a pair of diamond earrings, with the intention of selling them to compensate deceived customers and other creditors. Erika Girardi initially agreed to give them up, but last month her lawyer announced she was changing her strategy and fighting for the trinkets in court.
The earrings’ current location – a vault – is one of the only certain things about them. Neither the trustee nor Erika described them in detail. There are no confirmed photos of the jewelry, although “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star was a red carpet regular who was photographed by paparazzi while living her life in Los Angeles.
When Times reporters attempted to trace the provenance of the gemstones, they found a tangle of contradictions that pointed to a deeper mystery.
On his own, Tom Girardi loved showering his much younger third wife with expensive jewelry.
The diamond earrings he gave her when they married in 2000, when he was 60 and she was 28, were part of a collection that grew to include rings, bracelets, watches and other jewelry with a total value he once estimated at $15 million. .
The earrings and other pieces came from MM Jewelers, a small boutique nestled among a maze of similar outfits in downtown Los Angeles’ jewelry district. As attorneys for the store owners, the Menzilcian family, acknowledged, “The relationship goes back a long way.”
Attending the store one recent morning, Ared “Mike” Menzilcian said his father, 85, had a decades-long relationship with the attorney, 83. Menzilcian declined to provide specific information on the cut or clarity of the diamonds in the earrings, but said the two stones – one for each ear – were “almost perfect”, adding: “They were extremely large “.
Erika Girardi owned the earrings until at least 2007, when she embarked on a career, funded by her husband, as pop singer “Erika Jayne,” according to court records.
It is at this point that the fate of diamond nails becomes murky.
In one version of events, laid out by Tom Girardi in bankruptcy court filings, the earrings were stolen in early 2007 when the couple were out of town for a three-day weekend. .
“Fortunately, almost all of Erika’s major jewelry was in a huge safe that could not be opened or moved,” Girardi wrote in a 2012 letter to tax authorities that was later filed in bankruptcy court. . The earrings were not in the safe, the lawyer said, “but rather in a small cup in her dressing room. The thieves took the earrings, two of my watches, two of her watches and a bracelet.
In this version of events, Girardi had MM Jewelers make nearly identical replacements and paid for them with a March 6, 2007 check for $750,000. He was pulled from a bank account for clients in a drug-related injury case, and it was the use of those settlement funds that led US Bankruptcy Judge Barry Russell to qualify the purchase of the earrings of “crime” earrings. Russell ordered the earrings seized and sold.
But other recordings reviewed by The Times suggest the version of events is wrong. Records from the Pasadena police and an appeals court indicate that the money was transferred to the jeweler long before the earrings were stolen.
Pasadena police said only one burglary was reported at the Girardis’ home in 2007, a jewelry theft during a three-hour window on the night of Dec. 28. This date is nine months after the $750,000 check to MM Jewelers.
Police records are consistent with the Girardis’ own timeline in a 2009 lawsuit against their homeowners association. The couple claimed in the lawsuit that diamond earrings were stolen Dec. 28 from a glass jar on a bathroom counter, along with several other pieces of jewelry.
The date of the burglary was cited several times in the litigation, which lasted three years, until an appeals court, which in 2012 dismissed the couple’s claims against their HOA. In this version of the burglary, the Girardis were not on vacation when the crime happened but at dinner, and the earrings were “valued at $1 million,” according to the appeal decision.
At that time, state tax authorities were asking about the burglary and the earrings. In response, Girardi sent an official at the Sacramento Franchise Tax Board what he claimed was documentation of the theft, including a copy of the check for $750,000 to “M&M,” along with an affidavit in which Mike Menzilcian attested to having used the money. to get replacements. Girardi did not include a police report or receipt for the purchase of the jewelry, but he directed tax authorities to Thomas Layton, then a top investigator at the California State Bar. Girardi wrote that Layton “helped us as a friend in this situation”.
In his statement, Menzilcian said: “The case was very concerning and Tom asked me to try to reproduce the stolen earrings. I did exactly that. The jeweler added: “The real value of the earrings is much greater if they were to be purchased from Cartier or a similar store.”
It is not known what happened to the tax investigation. A spokesperson for the Franchise Tax Board said it could not comment on individual cases. But he said in general that the agency “could reach out to taxpayers in its administration of California personal income tax.”
Erika Girardi’s attorney, Evan Borges, declined to comment on the apparent discrepancy. But he has previously said in court papers that the earrings were ‘innocently received’ and the bankruptcy trustee was trying to blame his client ‘for events that took place 15 years ago at a law firm. in which Erika had no part”.
Borges made several arguments about why Erika should not be required to hand over the earrings, including that the purchase of the jewelry happened too far in the past for the bankruptcy trustee to claim.
Asked about an explanation for the conflicting burglary accounts, a lawyer for Menzilcian, Sevan Gorginian, said: “Perhaps Girardi’s version of events is not credible despite an ‘affidavit’. His character and credibility , in light of everything that happened, speak for themselves when it comes to his version of what happened.
The bankruptcy court’s interest in the earrings isn’t the only case in which MM Jewelers’ ties to Girardi have come under scrutiny.
About a decade ago, Girardi wanted to buy a diamond ring, according to Menzilcian and family friend Berj Boyajian. To pay for the stone, Menzilcian borrowed money from Boyajian. At the time, Boyajian, a lawyer, was linked to people overseeing a settlement fund for victims of the Armenian Genocide. Without settlement board approval, he transferred $150,000 of the funds to MM Jewelers, which repaid Boyajian a year later.
The transaction and other issues with the settlement were reported to various law enforcement agencies. Menzilcian said he was eventually asked to testify before a grand jury, where he recounted under oath that he used the money to purchase a diamond to put in Girardi’s ring.
There is no record of the grand jury issuing indictments. Boyajian did not contest a felony charge in connection with making false statements to the state bar regarding the bridging loan; he ultimately did not serve any prison time.
Girardi remained a client of MM Jewelers until at least 2017 or 2018, when he purchased what the Menzilians estimated to be “six or seven” pieces, according to family lawyer Gorginian. The Menzilcians’ attorney said the family complied with a subpoena to turn over records of Girardi’s purchases to the trustee in bankruptcy, although they no longer have papers for older transactions.
The “trustee basically does a lot of investigative work to try to figure out where [Girardi] get the money, who has the jewelry, did Erika leak all the jewelry,” Gorginian said.
While diamond studs worth $750,000 or $1 million might seem outlandish, Jason Arasheben, owner of Rodeo Drive Jason jewelry boutique in Beverly Hills, says they’re “totally in the business possible”.
“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s a natural phenomenon in the luxury market,” said Arasheben, who designed the Rams’ Super Bowl ring. He said he sold earrings with 10 carat diamonds on each ear.
“It’s ultra garish,” he admitted. “It pulls on your earlobe, and after a while you may need to stitch it up.”
Behind the counter of his store, Menzilcian said he and his family had done nothing wrong and “had nothing to hide.” The jeweler said he did not want to divulge detailed information about Girardi or other clients because discretion is essential in his profession.
“I work with a lot of top people,” he said. “I’m in a business where a husband walks in with his boyfriend, with his mistress, with his wife.”