For two seasons, Jennifer Shah shared her opulent lifestyle with the world as a cast member of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. But she left one thing out: She was also running a massive fraud that targeted vulnerable elderly people.
That ended this week when the reality TV star pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering through a telemarketing scam, and faces having to pay millions in restitution and potentially serving more than a decade in prison.
Shah, who was arrested last year while the second season of the Bravo show was in production, sold “business services” targeting people over the age of 55, lied to them about how much they’d make with the services, and “engaged in a widespread, coordinated effort to traffic in lists of potential victims,” referred to as “leads,” according to the U.S. Attorney from the Southern District of New York.
Though Shah lives in Utah, she began running a “sales floor” based in Manhattan as part of the scam in 2017, then later moved it to Kosovo to evade law enforcement, using encrypted messaging apps to cover her tracks, the Justice Department said.
Her “first assistant” Stuart Smith, who has appeared on the show, also pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme in November.
Shah had previously defended the business as legitimate. “My background is in direct response marketing for about 20 years, so our company does advertising,” she said during a reunion show in February 2021. “We have a platform that helps people acquire customers, so when you're shopping online or on the internet, and something pops, we have the algorithm behind why you're getting served that ad.”
Shah faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, but prosecutors recommended up to 14 years as part of the plea agreement, according to Variety. She’ll be forced to forfeit $6.5 million and could pay up to nearly $10 million in restitution.
“Jennifer Shah was a key participant in a nationwide scheme that targeted elderly, vulnerable victims,” Damien Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan, said in a statement. “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. This Office is committed to rooting out these schemes whatever form they take.”
Shah, who is married to Sharrieff Shah, an assistant coach for the University of Utah football team, apparently pulled the ultimate blindside on her Bravo co-stars by pleading guilty.
Jen Shah is apparently still on the show, with a source telling People that the case “is a very big part of Jen’s story.”
“Producers don't want us to stop following it now,” the source told People. “They'll keep filming with her as long as they can, just like they did with Teresa [Giudice],” the Real Housewives of New Jersey star who served nearly a year in jail in 2015 after a fraud conviction.
Some Real Housewives cast members had defended her innocence up until the moment she entered the plea. "For those of you who may not know this: I live in the United States of America,” friend and co-star Meredith Marks wrote on Instagram. “In the U.S., one has a right to a trial and is presumed innocent until proven guilty."
Bravo host Andy Cohen called Shah’s confession “pretty stunning” on his radio show Tuesday.
“I'm especially upset for her victims,” Cohen said. “I'm upset that she lied for so long and claimed to me that she was an example of someone being wrongly accused.”
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