By Terrance Turner
July 11, 2022 (updated Jan. 6, 2023)
“Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah has been sentenced to 6.5 years in prison for a telemarketing scheme that defrauded elderly victims. Photo from the Associated Press.
According to NBC News, “Shah was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison Friday in federal court in New York City. She’ll be subject to five years of supervised release once she gets out. Shah stood and faced the judge as her prison term was announced and showed no visible reaction.”
Shah reportedly left the courtroom without speaking to reporters. She has six weeks of freedom left before she must report to prison on Feb. 17. She’s asked to be sent to FPC Bryan, a minimum security prison camp for women. It’s about 100 miles northeast of Austin and 100 miles northwest of Houston.
Shah pled guilty in court in July to one of two charges in connection with a widespread telemarketing scheme. She copped a plea just one week before her trial was supposed to start, per Forbes. The government asked for a sentence of 10 years. “We think a 120-month sentence would be appropriate,” prosecutor Robert Sobelman said. But the judge handed down a sentence that’s substantially less.
In March 2021, Shah and her assistant Stuart Smith were arrested. They were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Initially, Shah pled not guilty to both charges. And she maintained her innocence on the show.
Following her March 2021 arrest, Shah insisted that she was innocent and used as her tagline to Season 2: “The only thing I’m guilty of is being Shah-mazing.”
Federal authorities used that line against Shah in sentencing papers, claiming it showed that she was mocking the system. And in July, she pled guilty to the charge of wire fraud (which carries a maximum of up to 30 years in prison). The change came as part of a plea deal.
“In front of Judge Sidney Stein shortly after 10:30 am, Shah entered into an agreement with federal prosecutors, changing her plea to guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud,” according to NBC News. The agreement calls for a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. It also calls for Shah to make restitution to victims in an amount of up to $9.5 million. She also agreed to a forfeiture of $6.5 million, per ABC News.
Admission of Guilt
“In 2012 to March 2021 in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere, I agreed with others to commit wire fraud,” Shah told Judge Stein as she read from a prepared statement. “I knew this was wrong. I knew many people were harmed and I’m so sorry.”
Judge Stein then asked Shah some questions. Their exchange (courtesy of Inner City Press) is quoted, in part, below:
Judge Stein: If there were a trial, you could see and hear all the witnesses against you and your attorney could cross examine them. Do you understand those rights?
Shah: Yes, Your Honor.
Judge Stein: You will be giving up all of these rights and there will be no trial – do you understand?
Shah: Yes, Your Honor.
Judge Stein: Did you read the indictment?
Shah: Yes, I did.
Judge Stein: You are charged in Count 1 with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing, do you understand?
Shah: Yes, Your Honor.
Judge Stein: You understand that you will lose valuable civil rights, including the right to vote and bear arms?
Shah: I do.
Judge Stein: After I receive your pre-sentencing report I will determine guidelines, which in any event do not bind me. Do you understand that the system of parole has been abolished, except for “good time credit” at the facility where you are located?
Judge Stein: In this agreement you’ve agreed not to appeal if I sentence you to 168 months in prison or fewer?
Shah: Yes, Your Honor.
Judge Stein: And you’ve agreed to forfeit $6 million, and restitution of $9 million?
Shah: Yes, Your Honor.
Judge Stein: Ms. Shah, what did you do?
Shah: Wire fraud, offering services with little to no value. We used interstate telephones and emails. I knew many of the purchasers were over the age of 55. I am so sorry.
Judge Stein: What is the reason they bought?
Shah: Misrepresentations, regarding the value of the product or service, of which it had little to none.
Judge Stein: Did you know it was wrong and illegal?
Shah: Yes, Your Honor.From court proceedings via Inner City Press
According to the indictment:
From 2012 until March 2021, JENNIFER SHAH and STUART SMITH, together with others (collectively, the “Participants”) carried out a wide-ranging telemarketing scheme that defrauded hundreds of victims (the “Victims”) throughout the United States, many of whom were over age 55, by selling those Victims so-called “business services” in connection with the Victims’ purported online businesses (the “Business Opportunity Scheme”).
In order to perpetrate the Business Opportunity Scheme, Participants, including SHAH and SMITH, engaged in a widespread, coordinated effort to traffic in lists of potential victims, or “leads,” many of whom had previously made an initial investment to create an online business with other Participants in the Scheme.From the indictment
Shah and Smith allegedly sold those leads to telemarketing companies that would attempt to sell business services to those people. The indictment states: “SHAH and SMITH, among other things, generated and sold leads to other Participants 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. SHAH and SMITH received as profit a share of the fraudulent revenue per the terms of their agreement with those Participants.”
Victim Impact Statements
In court documents obtained by PEOPLE, victims detailed how Shah’s scheme affected them. A 75-year-old retiree issued a letter to the courts on behalf of not only himself but “the many other seniors who were scammed by Mrs. Jennifer Shah.”
Years back, he received “an unsolicited call from Vision Solutions Management with promises of teaching and leading me to success with their coaching.” The call came as he was trying to lift his booming business off the ground amid the digital age. Internet marketing wasn’t his strong suit. So he signed up for the program.
After “several weeks” of coaching, he was contacted by Vision Management Group — a company claiming to not be affiliated with Vision Solutions Management — to pick up where the first service left off. But he eventually grew suspicious when three different businesses reached out to him. He was leery “because each business followed in sequence of what would have been the next steps for sales.”
He then noticed how multiple things appeared to be “duplicated” across the services. Later, he realized he had been “conned” and “wasted about $40,000 trying to do good for my family.”
Another victim wrote to the court. After an unsuccessful online job search, she received a call from one of Shah’s partners about launching an e-commerce business from home. She agreed because the opportunity “seemed promising and legitimate.” She bought “several services”.
“This was the biggest mistake I had ever made in my adult life,” the victim wrote. “I had accumulated a little over $35,000 in credit card debt by early January 2018, with no profits to show. It all felt so surreal.”
Even though they “worked diligently by devoting more than 10 hours a day” to their business, they still were unable to turn a profit. She eventually realized Shah had scammed her. But it was too late “because Jennifer and her partners already had my money.”
She “worried all the time” about her financial situation, losing sleep over it and eventually suffering a heart attack “brought on by extreme stress” that required her to take four separate medications. Once she recovered, she returned to work on her website. But then she discovered she’d been locked out of her own site.
A third victim lost over $100,000 because of Shah.
New Claims In New Trailer
UPDATE (Aug. 31): In a dramatic new trailer for the new season of RHOSLC, Shah claims she was a pawn in someone else’s game. She tells her castmates in one clip: “I got played by Stuart Smith. I wouldn’t be in this thing at all if it weren’t for Stuart.” But her castmate Whitney Rose gets intel from a woman who says, “Someone that I know was working for Jen and now he’s an informant.”
The trailer shows footage from Shah leaving the courtroom after her guilty plea. Peppered with questions by reporters outside (“Are you going to jail for 11 years?”), she silently enters her car. She doesn’t answer the questions.
“I’m upset,” said host and “Real Housewives” executive producer Andy Cohen last month. He continued”I’m especially upset for her victims. I’m upset that she lied for so long and claimed to me that she was an example of someone being wrongly accused.” He added: “I’m extremely upset about what she did.”
“I have a lot of questions for her,” Cohen said. “And I’m sure the audience — especially those who supported her and stood by her — does too.”
UPDATE (Jan. 25): Those questions won’t be answered tonight. Or maybe ever. The RHOSLC reunion is airing tonight, and Jen Shah isn’t there.
Last month, Shah claimed she told Bravo that “out of respect for the courts and a standing judicial order, I would not be in a position to discuss anything related to my legal case or sentencing.” Bravo found that unsatisfactory, she said. (Of course they did. You’re on a reality show.) As a result, Shah decided not to attend the reunion.
But on the night of the reunion airing, Shah invited folks to her website for “the real story”:
Why would anyone willingly give Shah their email address after all the scams she pulled? If you asked that question, you’re not alone.