Unraveling the mystery of Erika Jayne’s $800K diamond earrings — and Tom Girardi’s finances
Not long after they started dating, Tom Girardi has said, he presented cocktail waitress and aspiring actress Erika Chahoy with a pair of $800,000 diamond earrings.
“It was the first significant gift I had given her,” Girardi recalled years later to tax authorities.
The earrings set the tone for the private-jet-and-haute-couture lifestyle the pair would enjoy as a married couple.
Now, with the demise of the Girardis’ relationship and fortune, the jewelry has become a plot point in the quest to unravel the disgraced lawyer’s finances.
The trustee overseeing the bankruptcy of Girardi’s famed firm, Girardi Keese, has moved to seize a pair of diamond stud earrings, with plans to sell them to compensate cheated clients and other creditors. Erika Girardi at first agreed to relinquish them, but last month, her attorney announced that she was switching strategies and would battle for the baubles in court.
The earrings’ current location — a safe deposit box — is one of the only certain things about them. Neither the trustee nor Erika has described them in detail. There are no confirmed pictures of the jewelry, despite the star of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” having been a red-carpet regular who was photographed by paparazzi as she conducted her life in Los Angeles.
When Times reporters attempted to trace the gems’ provenance, they found a tangled web of contradictions that pointed to a deeper mystery.
By his own account, Tom Girardi loved showering his third, much-younger wife with expensive jewelry.
The diamond earrings he gave her around the time of their 2000 wedding, 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 M.M. Jewelers, a small shop tucked in a warren of similar outfits in downtown L.A.’s jewelry district. As a lawyer for the store’s owners, the Menzilcian family, acknowledged, “The relationship goes back a long way.”
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Minding the store on a recent morning, Ared “Mike” Menzilcian said his father, 85, had a decades-long relationship with the lawyer, 83. Menzilcian declined to provide specific information as to the cut or clarity of the diamonds in the earrings, but he said the two stones — one for each ear — were “near flawless,” adding, “They were extremely large.”
Erika Girardi possessed the earrings until at least 2007, when she embarked on a career, bankrolled by her husband, as pop singer “Erika Jayne,” according to court records.
It’s at this point that the fate of the diamond studs becomes murky.
In one version of events, laid out by Tom Girardi in records submitted to Bankruptcy Court, the earrings were stolen in the early months of 2007, while the couple were out of town for a three-day weekend.
“Fortunately, almost all of Erika’s major pieces of jewelry were in a massive 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 little cup in her dressing room. The thieves took the earrings, two of my watches, two of her watches and a bracelet.”
Bankruptcy trustees have accused the reality star of concealing assets for her husband and are dispatching investigators to comb through her belongings and accounts.
In that version of events, Girardi had M.M. Jewelers make near identical replacements and paid for them with a March 6, 2007, check for $750,000. It was drawn on a bank account for clients in a drug injury case, and it is the use of those settlement funds that has led U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Barry Russell to call the purchase of the earrings “a crime.” Russell ordered the earrings seized and sold.
But other records reviewed by The Times suggest that version of events is untrue. The records from Pasadena police and an appellate court indicate that the money was transferred to the jeweler long before the earrings were stolen.
Pasadena police said there was only one burglary reported at the Girardi’s home in 2007, a theft of jewelry during a three-hour window on the night of Dec. 28. That date is nine months after the $750,000 check to M.M. Jewelers.
The police records are consistent with the Girardis’ own timeline in a 2009 lawsuit against their homeowners association. The couple asserted in that litigation 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 repeatedly cited in the litigation, which went on for three years, all the way to an appellate court, which in 2012 rejected the couple’s claims against their HOA. In this version of the burglary, the Girardis were not on vacation when the crime occurred but at dinner, and the earrings were “valued at $1 million,” according to the appellate decision.
Clients who have accused Tom Girardi of misconduct will be tracking the new season of ‘Real Housewives,’ hoping for evidence to bolster their case.
By then, state tax authorities were asking questions about the burglary and the earrings. In response, Girardi sent an official at the Franchise Tax Board in Sacramento what he claimed to be documentation of the theft, including a copy of the $750,000 check to “M&M,” along with a sworn declaration in which Mike Menzilcian attested to using the money to procure replacements. Girardi did not include a police report or a receipt for the jewelry’s purchase, but he did direct tax authorities to Thomas Layton, then a top investigator at the State Bar of California. Girardi wrote that Layton “assisted us as a friend in this situation.”
In his declaration, Menzilcian recounted: “The matter was one of serious concern and Tom asked me to try to duplicate the earrings that were stolen. I did exactly that.” The jeweler added, “The actual value of the earrings is much greater if they were to be procured at Cartier or some similar store.”
It’s unclear what became of the tax investigation. A spokesperson for the Franchise Tax Board said he could not comment on individual cases. But he said generally that the agency “may reach out to taxpayers as part of its administration of the 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 that the bankruptcy trustee was trying to blame his client “for events of 15 years ago at a law firm in which Erika had no part.”
Borges has made several arguments as to why Erika should not be required to surrender the earrings, including that the purchase of the jewelry occurred too far in the past for the bankruptcy trustee to have any claim on them.
Asked for an explanation of the conflicting burglary accounts, an attorney for Menzilcian, Sevan Gorginian, said, “Perhaps Girardi’s version of facts is not credible despite a ‘sworn declaration.’ His character and credibility, in light of everything that has happened, speaks for itself with respect to his version of what happened.”
The Bankruptcy Court’s interest in the earrings is not the only instance in which M.M. Jewelers’ ties to Girardi have come under scrutiny.
About a decade ago, Girardi wanted to buy a diamond ring, according to Menzilcian and a family friend, Berj Boyajian. To pay for the stone, Menzilcian borrowed money from Boyajian. At the time, Boyajian, a lawyer, was connected to people overseeing a settlement fund for victims of the Armenian genocide. Without the approval of the settlement board, he transferred $150,000 of the funds to M.M. Jewelers, which repaid Boyajian a year later.
The transaction and other problems with the settlement were reported to various law enforcement agencies. Menzilcian said he was ultimately asked to testify before a grand jury, where he recounted under oath that he used the money to buy a diamond to put in Girardi’s ring.
There are no records of the grand jury issuing any indictments. Boyajian pleaded no contest to a felony and a misdemeanor charge in connection with making false claims to the State Bar about the bridge loan; he ultimately served no jail time.
Girardi remained a client of M.M. Jewelers through at least 2017 or 2018, when he bought what the Menzilcians estimated to be “six or seven” pieces, according to the family lawyer, Gorginian. The Menzilcians’ lawyer said the family has complied with a subpoena to turn over records of Girardi’s purchases to the bankruptcy trustee, though they no longer have paperwork for older transactions.
The “trustee is basically doing a lot of investigative work trying to figure out where did [Girardi] get the money, who has the jewelry, did Erika disclose all the jewelry,” Gorginian said.
Though diamond studs worth $750,000 or $1 million might sound outlandish, Jason Arasheben, owner of the Rodeo Drive jewelry boutique Jason of Beverly Hills, said they are “totally within the realm of possibility.”
While working as a watchdog for the public, Tom Layton spent hours advancing the interests and political connections of one lawyer with a long record of misconduct complaints, emails obtained by The Times show.
“I know it sounds crazy, but that’s a natural occurrence in the luxury market,” said Arasheben, who created the Rams’ Super Bowl ring. He said he has sold earrings with 10-carat diamonds on each ear.
“It’s ultra gaudy,” he acknowledged. “It pulls on your earlobe, and after a while you may need to get it stitched up.”
Behind the counter at his store, Menzilcian said he and his family had done nothing wrong and “have nothing to hide.” The jeweler said he didn’t want to disclose detailed information about Girardi or any other clients, because discretion is key in his profession.
“I work with a lot of high-profile people,” he said. “I am in a business where a husband comes in with his boyfriend, with his mistress, with his wife.”
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