Former Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star Jennifer Shah will be giving up the lavish lifestyle that helped make her a reality television star in exchange for a prison cell for the next six and a half years.
On Friday, a federal judge sentenced her to 78-month sentence for spearheading a nationwide telemarketing scheme that defrauded thousands thousands of elderly people out of their life savings.
“The character your client plays on Real Housewives is simply a character,” Senior U.S. Judge Sidney Stein told her attorney Priya Chaudhry, taking a shot at the reality TV format.
Adding that the show involves “characters who are given scripts,” Stein added: “People shouldn’t confuse your client with the character she plays. One is acting, and one is — reality.”
The judge stopped a pregnant pause before the punchline, sparking laughter in the courtroom gallery.
“Worked Hard to Defraud People”
Speaking first for the parties, Chaudhry said that the proceedings were “for the innocent people who lost so much,” but emphasized that none of the thousands of elderly victims ever spoke to Shah directly. Judge Stein quickly interjected, pointing out that such a fact does not help Shah because she was simply “too high” and “too important” to the conspiracy to ever deal with clients firsthand.
“It cuts against you,” he told Chaudhry.
As Chaudhry repeatedly asserted the extent to which Shah regretted her actions and would “never forgive herself,” Stein again cut her off to ask whether Shah was still selling “Justice for Jen” merchandise. Chaudhry said that sales had stopped and promised that all of the proceeds would be given to Shah’s victims, though she noted that those funds had not yet been turned over.
Prosecutors asserted that far from being contrite, Shah spent months mocking the charges against her, publicly saying things such as, “The only thing I’m guilty of is being Shah-mazing.” It was only when the government provided Shah’s attorney with “devastating” evidence showing her client’s guilt, that Shah’s attitude changed.
The government said that throughout their investigation into the fraud scheme, they were “unable to identify anyone with more power” than Shah. They also argued Shah’s claim that she was “consciously avoiding” learning about the damage she was doing to her victims was undercut by the numerous steps she took in evading law enforcement, which included moving her businesses overseas, using bank accounts in other people’s names, switching to a cash-only model, and lying to investigators.
According to prosecutors, Shah also set herself apart from other defendants involved in the case with her work ethic, saying it was “remarkable” how quickly she worked her way to the top of the hierarchy. She “worked hard to defraud people,” prosecutors said.
As she was during her guilty plea hearing, Shah struck a note of contrition when she addressed the court.
“This is a crucible moment for me,” Shah said, remarking to her upbringing in the Pacific Islands.
Jen Shah leaving court with her husband Coach Shah walking in front. The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star was sentenced to 6.5 years today in federal fraud case. #RealHousewives @TheRealJenShah pic.twitter.com/bVxiWaqXvE
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) January 6, 2023
Describing herself as “deeply sorry my actions hurt innocent people,” Shah vowed to repay her victims “every cent.”
Shah, 49, must also forfeit $6.5 million, 30 luxury items, and 78 counterfeit luxury items, and to pay more than $6.6 million in restitution.
“Little or No Value”
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams celebrated the verdict.
“With today’s sentence, Jennifer Shah finally faces the consequences of the many years she spent targeting vulnerable, elderly victims,” Williams wrote in a statement. “These individuals were lured in by false promises of financial security, but in reality, Shah and her co-conspirators defrauded them out of their savings and left them with nothing to show for it. This conviction and sentence demonstrate once again that we will continue to vigorously protect victims of financial fraud and hold accountable those who engage in fraudulent schemes.”
When she pleaded guilty last year, Shah admitted that the purported coaching serves for online business opportunities that she sold to the elderly and vulnerable had “little or no value.”
The judge’s sentence falls roughly halfway between the term recommended by the government and the defense. Prosecutors had recommended Shah be given a 10-year sentence. Defense attorneys had been seeking a sentence of three years.
Shah was initially arrested in July 2021 while Bravo was in the midst of taping its second season of the hit reality show.
On July 11, 2022, one week before she was scheduled to go to trial, Shah pleaded guilty to a wire fraud conspiracy aimed at bilking elderly and vulnerable people out of millions. She also entered into a $6.5 million preliminary forfeiture order that day.
“I agreed with others to commit wire fraud,” she said during her plea hearing. “Furthermore, while doing this, I knew many of the purchasers were over the age of 55.”
The telemarketing scheme involved supposed coaching services for business opportunities, which she conceded before her conviction had “little to no value.”
Shah’s sentencing hearing came at the end of a week in which her defense team and prosecutors sparred over a restraining order stemming from an alleged affair Shah had with a woman’s wife in 2019. Prosecutor’s suggested that the woman’s account of her interactions with Shah belied her claims that she was a person of high moral character.
The reality star’s attorney on Thursday hit back against the government’s assertions, describing the filing as nothing more than “unreliable, salacious” allegations with no place in federal court.
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]