Jenn Shah, featured in both seasons of the franchise set in Salt Lake City, is facing federal prison for a scheme to target victims over the age of 55 with junk products.
MANHATTAN (CN) — One week before her federal trial is set to begin in New York, reality TV star Jen Shah pleaded guilty Monday to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with a telemarketing scheme.
Shah, a recurring cast member of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” read from a brief statement during a hearing scheduled to change her plea this morning.
“I knew it was wrong — I knew people were hurt,” Shah said. “So sorry.”
Wearing a blue-and-black trouser suit and a white face mask to protect against the transmission of the coronavirus, Shah admitted to the presiding judge that the services and products her telemarketing company sold to victims “have little or no value.”
“Also, while I was doing this, I knew that many of the buyers were over 55,” said Shah, who is 48 herself.
Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York dropped two counts of money laundering from Shah’s indictment, given that she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.
U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein accepted Shah’s guilty plea and ordered her to pay $9.5 million in restitution and $6.5 million in forfeiture. The Clinton-appointed judge set Shah’s sentencing for Nov. 28, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Ordinarily, the conspiracy charge would carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison plus five years of supervised release. Shah, meanwhile, agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors that ranged her sentences from 11.25 years to 14 years.
However, the sentencing guideline range from the plea agreement is not binding, and Judge Stein could sentence Shah to the 30-year maximum sentence.
“Jennifer Shah was a key participant in a nationwide scheme targeting elderly, vulnerable victims,” U.S. Attorney Damien Williams said in a statement Monday afternoon. “These victims were sold false promises of financial security, but instead Shah and her co-conspirators swindled them out of their savings and left them with nothing to show for it.”
Shah was accompanied to Monday’s court hearing by her husband, Sharif “Coach” Shah, a longtime cornerback and special teams coordinator for the University of Utah Utes.
The change in charge comes after Shah’s co-defendant Stewart Smith, the reality star’s former assistant, pleaded guilty in November 2021. Smith awaits sentencing.
When the duo was arrested in March 2021, The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City had only wrapped its first season a month earlier. Both initially pleaded not guilty, and Shah steadfastly maintained his innocence before the postponed July trial date. A second season of Shah’s program aired on Bravo for six months until March 2022.
Last Tuesday afternoon, Shah arrived 90 minutes early for her final preliminary appearance in federal court in Manhattan wearing black and white plaid pants, oversized Valentino sunglasses, a Gucci crystal belt and a large Gucci bag.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirsten A. Fletcher said Monday that the government is prepared to use cooperating witnesses and electronic communications to show how Shah and Smith targeted small business owners, usually of a certain age, with business marketing services such as tax preparation or website designs, which they said could lead to efficiencies and profits for clients’ companies.
To demonstrate how Shah “intentionally understated the proceeds of her crimes by hundreds of thousands of dollars” over a period of several years, Fletcher said the government was prepared to use her tax returns against her as evidence at trial.
Federal prosecutors with the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Division said the fraud scheme operated between 2012 and 2021, claiming hundreds of victims across the country over a decade, many of them were over 55 and did not own computers.
Shah and Smith tried to hide their role in the scheme, according to the charges, by using third-party names for their business entities, telling victims to use encrypted messages to communicate with them, and instructing people to send some payments to offshore bank accounts.
Shah and her attorneys declined to comment to reporters outside the courthouse after the change of plea hearing Monday morning.
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