According to newly filed court documents, the Justice Department is requesting a decade in prison for “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah ahead of her Jan. 6 sentencing for running a nationwide telemarketing scheme targeting seniors, as well as previously unreported victim impact statements from some of the elderly people she defrauded.
Shah, 49, is described in the Dec. 23 filing as “the most culpable person charged in this case,” and “an integral leader of a wide-ranging, nationwide telemarketing fraud scheme that victimised thousands of innocent people.
“Victims were defrauded over and over again at the defendant’s direction until they had nothing left,” wrote Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “She and her co-conspirators continued their behaviour until the victims’ bank accounts were depleted, their credit cards were maxed out, and there was nothing else to take.”
Shah’s lawyers and representative did not respond to requests for comment right away. According to court documents, Shah’s lawyers have requested a three-year prison sentence.
From 2012 to 2021, Shah and her “first assistant,” Stuart Smith, were accused of wire fraud and money laundering in a scheme in which they “generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam,” according to the US Attorney’s Office.
After initially pleading not guilty to the charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in April 2021, Shah entered a guilty plea to the wire fraud count in a dramatic courtroom reversal a week before her trial was set to begin this past July.
As part of the plea agreement, the money laundering charge was dropped, and Shah agreed to forfeit $6.5 million and pay restitution of up to $9.5 million, in addition to facing up to 14 years in prison.
Smith also pled not guilty to the charges in April 2021, but changed his plea to guilty in November 2021, according to court records. According to court documents, Smith does not appear to have been sentenced.
‘The burden you have placed on me is immense.’
The filing includes five previously unreported victim impact statements written last month, ahead of Shah’s Nov. 28 sentencing, which was postponed at her lawyers’ request to Jan. 6.
The statements shed new light on how Shah and her associates defrauded people and the effects the scheme allegedly had on their victims, including homelessness, suicidal ideation, and severe health issues.
The victim who appeared to have been defrauded the most was a Canadian woman who lost more than $100,000 as a result of the scheme’s unfulfilled promises to assist her in starting an unspecified new business.
She claims that the loss of money caused her to consider suicide, forced her to remortgage her home, nearly led to divorce, and has left her struggling to pay bills and care for her “critically ill” husband and 90-year-old father.
“The burden you have placed on me is overwhelming; I can’t even begin to express how much anguish you have caused,” the victim wrote in her impact statement to Shah.
A 60-year-old victim claimed she “suffered emotional and physical stress” after investing $35,000 in what Shah’s associates promised would be her own e-commerce business. She “realised that I was being scammed” after devoting more than 10 hours a day to what she thought was her business and not making any profit, and had two heart attacks in 2018, the first of which she blamed on “extreme stress.”
Another victim, who suffered from a number of serious health issues, stated that she became homeless after falling into nearly $30,000 in debt as a result of Shah’s scheme.
According to her victim impact statement, a 75-year-old retiree was defrauded of more than half her life savings — approximately $40,000 — through promises to coach her on how to market products online. Following that, several businesses operating under different names began contacting her with the same promises, and “coaching and information began to be duplicated,” she wrote.
After Shah’s scheme defrauded her of nearly $10,000 by selling her a course that promised to help her “acquire a skill in computer knowledge and sales work,” a fifth victim, a widow in her mid-70s, asked the court to “let the punishment fit the crime.” Not only did the course fail to adequately teach her how to start her own business, but telemarketers continued to call and harass her even after she realised she was being scammed and her attorney intervened, she wrote.
“The mental anguish is still with me today, and the guilt I harbour from being such a vulnerable and easy prey to such sharks,” the victim said.
‘The only crime I’ve committed is being Shah-mazing.’
The feds also claim that Shah “engaged in a yearslong, comprehensive effort to conceal her continued role in the scheme,” and then tried to profit from the charges once they became public by selling merchandise claiming her innocence as part of a “public offensive.”
The recent filing also claims that Shah appeared to mock the charges against her in the opening credits of season two of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” saying, “The only thing I’m guilty of is being Shah-mazing.”
Bravo, the network where “NBC Universal, the parent company of NBC News, owns the “Real Housewives” franchise.
The second season of “Housewives” cameras captured the moments leading up to Shah’s arrest — which did not happen on camera — as well as her cast members’ apparent shock upon learning of the allegations against her. None of Shah’s co-stars have been charged with any wrongdoing.
The show depicted scenes from Shah’s opulent daily life, including designer clothes and bags, lavish parties, and a group of assistants known as the “Shah Squad,” of which Smith was allegedly a member.
Shah has been a part of the show since its first season, which debuted in 2020; the third season is currently in production.
In an Instagram post last week, Shah claimed that she was initially told she wouldn’t be able to attend the show’s season three reunion — which had just finished filming — because of her guilty plea, but that producers changed their minds and invited her last month on the condition that she be willing to discuss her legal case, which she said she was unwilling to do.
“That expectation has no regard for my or my family’s well-being, so I will not attend reunion,” she wrote.
A request for comment from Bravo was not immediately returned.
Appeals for mercy
Shah’s family members pleaded for leniency in her sentencing in letters to the judge in court documents filed on December 16.
Sharrieff Shah, 51, the University of Utah football team’s cornerbacks/special teams coordinator, who is not accused of any crime, pleaded with the judge to consider her role as a wife and mother to their two sons; her “civic commitment and contributions to her community,” which he said included making and distributing masks to homeless people during the pandemic and supporting LGBTQ youth; and her “sincere desire to correct her past wrongs.”
Jen Shah also filed a statement with the court on Dec. 16 — much of it redacted — in which she stated that she accepts “complete responsibility for my bad behaviour” and claimed that “terrible business decisions… stemmed from some personal painful experiences that I was going through in my life,” including the deaths of her father and grandmother in 2018.
“By investing in poorly structured businesses/products that I influenced or controlled, my poor judgement and bad business associations caused innocent people to lose money and be victimised,” she wrote. “I sincerely apologise for that, and I will work for the rest of my life to make it right.”
In that statement, Shah also claimed that she joined “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” to “escape the coaching business” and “have a platform to launch my fashion and beauty business.”
“I hoped that by participating in the show, I would be able to restart my life and become someone my father and family would be proud of,” she wrote.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. Call the network, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741, or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for more information.