“Real Housewives” star pleads guilty to robbing longtime business owners

Jen Shah, featured in both seasons of the franchise set in Salt Lake City, faces federal prison time for a scheme that targeted victims over the age of 55 with junk products.

MANHATTAN (CN) – A week before her federal trial was set to begin in New York City, reality television star Jen Shah pleaded guilty Monday to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with a telemarketing scheme.

Shah, a recurring cast member on “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” read from a brief statement during a scheduled plea change hearing this morning.

“I knew this was wrong — I knew people were hurt,” Shah said. “I’m so sorry.”

Dressed in a blue-on-black trouser suit and a white face mask to protect against the transmission of the coronavirus, Shah admitted before the presiding judge that the services and products her telemarketing company sold to victims “were of little or no value”. .

“Also, while doing this, I knew that many of the buyers were over the age of 55,” said Shah, who is 48 herself.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York dismissed one money-laundering charge from Shah’s two-count indictment in exchange for her guilty plea to the single conspiracy count.

US District Judge Sidney Stein accepted Shah’s guilty plea and ordered him to pay $9.5 million in restitution and $6.5 million in forfeiture. The Clinton-appointed judge sentenced Shah on Nov. 28, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Jen Shah, a cast member of the reality television series “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” leaves Manhattan federal court on July 11, 2022, after pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud. (Josh Russell/Courthouse News)

Normally, the conspiracy charge would have carried a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, plus five years of supervised release. Shah, meanwhile, agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors that drops her sentencing guidelines from 11.25 years to 14 years.

However, the sentencing guideline range from the plea agreement is not binding, and Judge Stein could sentence Shah to a maximum of 30 years.

“Jennifer Shah was a key participant in a nationwide scheme that targeted elderly and vulnerable victims,” ​​U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement Monday afternoon. “These victims were sold false promises of financial security, but instead Shah and her accomplices defrauded them of their savings and were left with nothing to show for it.”

Shah was accompanied to Monday’s court hearing by her husband, Sharrieff “Coach” Shah, the longtime cornerback and special teams coordinator for the University of Utah Utes.

The plea change comes after Shah’s co-defendant Stuart Smith, a former assistant to the reality TV star, pleaded guilty in November 2021. Smith is awaiting sentencing.

When the pair were arrested in March 2021, “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” had finished its first season just a month earlier. Both initially pleaded not guilty, and Shah strongly maintained her innocence ahead of the delayed July trial date. The second season of Shah’s program aired on Bravo for six months until March 2022.

Last Tuesday afternoon, Shah arrived 90 minutes early for her final pretrial conference in Manhattan federal court, wearing a black-and-white checkered pantsuit, oversized Valentino sunglasses, a Gucci diamond belt, and a large Gucci bag.

Jen Shah, a cast member of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, arrives in federal court in Manhattan on July 5, 2022, for a pretrial conference ahead of her July 18 trial. Shah faces charges of money laundering and fraud in connection with a telemarketing scheme that preyed on vulnerable and elderly victims. (Josh Russell/Court News Service)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kiersten A. Fletcher said Monday that the government was prepared to use cooperating witnesses and electronic communications to show how Shah and Smith targeted small business owners, usually of a certain age, with marketing to business services such as tax preparation or website. designs they said could drive efficiency and profits for client companies.

To demonstrate how Shah “deliberately understated the proceeds of her crimes by hundreds of thousands of dollars” over a period of several years, Fletcher said the government was prepared to use her tax returns against her as evidence at trial.

Federal prosecutors with the Justice Department’s money laundering and transnational criminal enterprise unit said the fraud scheme operated between 2012 and 2021, ripping off hundreds of victims nationwide over a decade, many of whom were over 55 and didn’t own computers. .

Shah and Smith tried to hide their role in the scheme, according to the charges, by using third-party names for their business entities, telling victims to use coded messages to communicate with them and instructing people to send some payments to offshore bank accounts.

Shah and her attorneys declined to comment to reporters outside court after the plea hearing changed Monday morning.

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