I was recently provided with the transcript of the Chapter 7-341 hearing in which The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s Teresa and Joe Giudice met with John Sywilok, Esq. (trustee) and various creditors. What makes this 87-page document highly relevant today is the fact that the Giudice’s bankruptcy case has been reopened.
Generally speaking, creditors appear at a 341 hearing to examine whether the debtor’s Chapter 7 case is filed in good faith and to find out if the debtor intends to repay them. The trustee’s job is to make sure creditors get paid as much as possible. In order to do this, the trustee wants to corroborate that the debtor didn’t leave any assets or property off the bankruptcy papers and the debtor reported income is accurate.
Most 341 hearings last about 10 minutes and creditors sometimes do not even show up. Not so in the Giudice’s case. The transcriber certified that the proceedings on Feb. 5, 2010 lasted from approximately 3:39pm to 4:54pm. John Sywilok, Wachovia Bank, Joseph Mastropole, and the owner of Excelsior Lumber Company interrogated the Giudices. These meetings tend to last longer when a debtor is not willing to answer the trustee’s questions clearly.
Mr. Sywilok initially queried,
“As of the time you filed this petition, is the information there true and correct?” Teresa and Joe both responded, “Yes.” The trustee then questioned, “What was the reason that you had to amend the petition and schedules?” Joe replied, “Just because there was so much stuff.” The trustee retorted, “Excuse me?”
As is customary, the trustee stated,
“You are both here today because the bankruptcy code requires that you appear and be examined under oath concerning the statements you have set forth in your bankruptcy petition, schedules, and statements of affair.”
Lights. Camera. Litigation.
“Let’s go into your situation. You’re doing some, I guess, acting work … for Bravo TV and you have a contract with Sirens Media?” Teresa answered, “Yes.” The trustee then grilled, “Do you receive monthly payments under the contract or do you – is it quarterly?” Teresa explained she receives monthly payments but does not answer precisely how much she makes, instead stating, “It varies from month to month.” When the trustee tries to dig further, Teresa says, “You have the contract.” Mr. Sywilok reacts, “Well, I’m asking you though.”
Below is a conversation that serves as a good example of how Teresa (and even Joe) tries to minimize her Bravo payments.
The Trustee: Now, in the future are you entitled to any royalties in regard to when they show …
Mrs. Guidiuce: No, I wish I was.
The Trustee: You know – I notice that you, in fact, have to pay royalties back to them if you appear –
Mrs. Guidice: Not the time or the place … I mean, we get paid, but then we have to buy our own clothes – everything, like everything we do – so its like we’re really not getting paid, basically.
Mr. Giudice: It’s TV, not reality.
Mrs. Giudice: Yea, the IRS came to my house…and I was so upset because I’m like, are you kidding me, like here I am trying to do a TV show, having fun with it, and then this happens to us.
Joseph Mastropole, a creditor and Joe Giudice’s former business partner, attended the hearing along with his legal counsel, William Saracino, Esq. Mr. Mastropole probed:
“Nobody pays rent to you?” Joe responded, “No, nobody pays rent.” Mr. Mastropole cheekily countered, “You’re the only landlord I know that never collects any rent.”
Mr. Mastropole: The two buildings that I own with you, that you bankrupt, how much rent do you collect off both of those buildings? … I know you’ve got Section 8 rents, you got TRA rents, you got a lot of rents that I can confirm.
Mrs. Giudice: No, you don’t know because you’re not part of it.
Mr. Trustee: Ma’am!
Mr. Kridel: Ma’am!
Mrs. Giudice: So how do you know?
Mr. Mastropole: Believe me, I know.
Mrs. Giudice: No, you don’t.
Mr. Trustee: Ma’am! Would you please –
Mrs. Giudice: Sorry. Okay.
Mr. Trustee: Would you please be quiet.
Mrs. Giudice: Check the petition.
Mr. Mastropole: The petition’s full of shit. I’ve never seen such a bogus petition in my life.
Teresa then got into the following heated exchange with William Saracino.
Mrs. Giudice: Your client should have stuck to his –
Mr. Kridel: No, you don’t need to –
Mr. Giudice: Tre, you don’t need to comment on it.
Mr. Saracino: The bottom line is that you had a balance of $260,000, you didn’t pay it, and you indicated to the trustee – stop it!
Mrs. Giudice: Excuse me?
Mr. Kridel: Sir!
Mr. Saracino: Stop it!
Mrs. Giudice: What did you say?
Mr. Mastropole: I said, don’t look at me like that.
Mr. Giudice: Hey Joe, why don’t you calm down before –
Mr. Kridel: Stop.
Mr. Giudice: — I put you through the wall?
After what was probably a stormy moment between the Giudices and Joseph Mastropole, the trustee reminds the group,
“We’re just trying to determine what the assets and liabilities are of this and whether there are potential assets to liquidate for the benefit of the creditors and seeing if there were transfers of property and such.”
Tana Bucca, Esq., represented Wachovia Bank. You cannot lie about income or hide assets in bankruptcy. The Giudice’s answers to questions are often noncommittal.
Ms. Bucca: The security deposits in connection with that property (393 Lexington Avenue), where are they?
Mr. Giudice: They’re old, I don’t know.
Ms. Bucca: Do you have them in a –
Mr. Giudice: Gone.
Ms. Bucca: When you took them in, did you deposit them in a segregated account?
Mr. Giudice: I deposited them, but I had to use them in the building.
Ms. Bucca: And where was your bank account for that property?
Mr. Giudice: I had it at Wachovia and then I transferred it to Bergen Community or whatever it’s called.
Ms. Bucca: And that’s where you’re putting the rents that you’re collecting right now?
Mr. Giudice: Whatever I’m collecting, yeah.
Each individual involved in legal proceedings has a right to represent him or herself (pro se); however, the use of an attorney is highly encouraged. Joe Giudice is asked which attorney he used to do evictions and he responded, “We do it ourselves.” Ms. Bucca is ostensibly shocked and responds, “Oh, you do.”
At the 341 hearing, Teresa spoke of her jewelry being stolen.
“…that was like all my jewelry and I was so – I was devastated.” Both her and Joe revealed that their insurance company paid them about $20,000 for the stolen jewels. The trustee followed up, “You had a claim there much greater. It was like $120,000 … Because you listed about $120,000 in the value of jewelry.” Teresa replied, “Well, I mean you know, when you get estimates from jewelers, they always put it for more than what it is.” In a further attempt to reduce the worth of the jewelry, Joe stated, “It’s costume.”
Joe claimed that the only jewelry he owned of value was the chain around his neck and a watch, but he clarified,
“I just lost it [the watch] the other day. I think it was an Esquire or something – I don’t even know.” The trustee was not amused. “Sir, you seem to take this with a great levity…you have to be more serious.”
Numerous times throughout the hearing, Teresa makes a statement even when she isn’t being examined. The trustee regularly snaps, “Mrs. Giudice, the question’s directed to him. Be quiet.”
At one point, James Kridel who represented the Giudices in their bankruptcy case tries to impart words of wisdom about honesty and transparency. Speaking to Joe, he says,
“You should tell the trustee if you had another entity. If you did – he’s correct, you should not take this lightly, so if you think it might be something else, you should testify to that.”
Follow The Money
When you file for bankruptcy, you complete a packet of papers where you list your income, assets, and debts. You sign your bankruptcy petition and schedules under the penalty of perjury. You cannot intentionally fail to list assets or income on your bankruptcy schedules.
Mr. Trustee: Did you ever have a checking account with Great Falls?
Mr. Giudice: Yeah, a while ago.
Mr. Trustee: Because –
Mr. Giudice: It’s not even Great Falls anymore, it’s Valley National.
Mr. Trustee: Because for two years in a row, you’re drawing out about $8,000 a year in interest in those accounts.
Mrs. Giudice: We were making $8,000 in interest?
Mr. Trustee: Yes.
Mr. Giudice: Maybe it’s Gia’s account – maybe the kids’ account? I don’t know.
Mr. Trustee: What I want you to do is review your records and see if there is an account that you have with Valley National Bank.
Mr. Giudice: We closed out our accounts there a long time ago.
Mr. Trustee: If you were making eight percent interest –
Mrs. Giudice: Yeah, how much would be in there?
Mr. Trustee: — there would be about $100,000 in that account.
The Giudice’s actions force us to examine the powerful ramifications of fraud. The owner of Excelsior Lumber told the trustee that he came from a small business and that he sold Joe Giudice close to $100,000 worth of building supplies and material. He said he cannot afford legal representation and he doesn’t understand how the couple can get away with this type of behavior.
“You see her flaunting hundreds, tens of hundreds of dollars in bills on national TV, and I’m sitting here. I’ve had to let 10 go because, you know, business is terrible, and people like him don’t pay me.”
The trustee attempted to mitigate the impact, telling him,
“I understand your frustration.” The owner answered, “You have no idea my frustrations.”
Read the entire 87-page transcript in full disclosure below:
Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and tell us what you think about the statements made at the 341 hearing.
Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.