“Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jennifer Shah pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiring to defraud elderly and vulnerable people out of millions in a nationwide telemarketing scheme.
“I agreed with others to commit wire fraud,” Shah acknowledged in court, saying that she made misrepresentations about the value of the service.
In actuality, the purported “services” — billed as coaching for supposed online business opportunities — had “little or no value,” she said.
“Furthermore, while doing this, I knew many of the purchasers were over the age of 55,” Shah said.
Shah added that she knew that what she was doing was wrong — and that she is “so sorry.”
Her guilty plea fell exactly one week before the anticipated start of her trial on July 18.
The hastily assembled change of plea hearing was ordered minutes before it began.
An order by Senior U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein, a Bill Clinton appointee, hit the docket at 10:28 a.m., which called to convene proceedings at 10:30 a.m.
On March 30, 2021, federal authorities arrested Shah and her “first assistant” Stuart Smith in Utah.
When first announcing their indictment, then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss issued a statement accusing the duo of using their celebrity status to bilk hundreds of victims.
“Jennifer Shah, who portrays herself as a wealthy and successful businessperson on ‘reality’ television, and Stuart Smith, who is portrayed as Shah’s ‘first assistant,’ allegedly generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam,” Strauss said on the day of their arrest. “In actual reality and as alleged, the so-called business opportunities pushed on the victims by Shah, Smith, and their co-conspirators were just fraudulent schemes, motivated by greed, to steal victims’ money.”
Strauss’s successor, current Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, echoed those themes in his statement, which followed Shah’s conviction.
“Jennifer Shah was a key participant in a nationwide scheme that targeted elderly, vulnerable victims,” Williams wrote. “These victims were sold false promises of financial security but instead Shah and her co-conspirators defrauded them out of their savings and left them with nothing to show for it.”
Smith pleaded guilty several months after his and Shah’s indictment.
Following suit on Monday, Shah agreed to plead guilty to the first count charged in her indictment: conspiracy to commit wire fraud, Shah’s attorney Priya Chaudhry announced at the start of the proceedings.
“Ms. Shah is a good woman who crossed a line,” Chaudhry wrote in an email to Law&Crime. “She accepts full responsibility for her actions and deeply apologizes to all who have been harmed. Ms. Shah is also sorry for disappointing her husband, children, family, friends, and supporters. Jen pled guilty because she wants to pay her debt to society and put this ordeal behind her and her family.”
Chaudhry’s statement provides a sharp contrast to her client’s posture when she was arrested in 2021, when Bravo was taping the show’s second season. The housewife reportedly asserted her innocence in show promos by stating “the only thing I’m guilty of is being Shah-mazing.”
The 48-year-old reality TV show participant waived her right to a trial and said that her attorneys advised her of her rights before she made her decision. She did not plead to the second count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Prosecutors claim that Shah “generated and sold leads to other [participants in the telemarketing scheme] for use by their telemarketing sales floors with the knowledge that the individuals they had identified as ‘leads’ would be defrauded by the other participants.”
Another co-conspirator, Cameron Brewster, was quoted by prosecutors describing those lead lists as a “money sucking website.”
The maximum penalty on the count of conviction is 30 years imprisonment, a possible term of supervised release of five years, and a fine of $250,000 or twice the proceeds of the criminal conduct.
Under the terms of her plea agreement, Shah’s sentencing guidelines are between 135 to 168 months of imprisonment, or 11 and one-quarter years to 14 years. The judge can choose to sentence Shah above or below that range. Shah agreed under the plea deal not to appeal any sentence that is below 168 months behind bars.
“It is understood that the sentence to be imposed upon the defendant is determined solely by the court,” the plea agreement states. “It is further understood that the guidelines are not binding on the court.”
She will forfeit $6.5 million to the U.S. government and pay $9.5 million in restitution to the victims.
If the case had gone to trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kiersten Ann Fletcher said, the evidence would have shown that Shah used encrypted applications to chat with co-conspirators to discuss moving the operation offshore to Kosovo. Fletcher said that there were thousands of victims, a number of whom would have testified at Shah’s trial.
Shah will be sentenced on Nov. 28.
Read her plea agreement, below:
(image via YouTube/Bravo TV)
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