Thursday, February 2, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Real Housewives’ Star Arrested in Alleged Money Laundering Scheme

Jen Shah, of "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City," was arrested Tuesday on federal charges for wire fraud and money laundering in a nationwide scheme that often targeted the elderly.

(CN) --- “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah was arrested Tuesday and charged by federal prosecutors for engaging in a nationwide telemarketing scam with her assistant that ripped off hundreds of victims.

Shah, 47, and her assistant Stuart Smith, 43, are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing and conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. If convicted, they face up to 50 years in prison.

In an indictment filed in the court, Shah and Smith allegedly sold hundreds of victims, many of who were over 55 years old, “business services” related to “the victims’ purported online businesses.” 

It detailed 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.”

Shah and Smith appeared in Salt Lake City federal court Tuesday afternoon for an initial hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead. According to Fox 13 in Utah, Pead did not detain the duo, and Shah is scheduled to appear virtually before a federal judge in New York on Wednesday.

“Shah and Smith flaunted their lavish lifestyle to the public as a symbol of their ‘success,'” said Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent-in-Charge Peter Fitzhugh in a statement. “In reality, they allegedly built their opulent lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people.”

The indictment claims the two “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.” The scheme, which they’ve run since 2012, operated out New York, New Jersey, Arizona, Nevada and Utah, according to prosecutors.

In a statement, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said “the so-called business opportunities pushed on the victims by Shah, Smith, and their co-conspirators were just fraudulent schemes, motivated by greed, to steal victims’ money. Now, these defendants face time in prison for their alleged crimes.”

Shah gained notoriety late last year as one of six women starring in the first season of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”

Most of the season’s storylines centered around Shah, who was often dressed in elaborate furs, designer clothes and sky-high heels. From feuding with her fellow housewives, discussing racism she faced as a Hawaiian and Tongan woman living in Utah and working out her relationship with her husband, University of Utah assistant football coach Sharrieff Shah, Shah was regularly the lynchpin for drama during the reality show.  

The show was renewed last month for a second season with Shah returning, so her arrest may play out in primetime.

This isn’t the first time a “Housewives” star has faced legal trouble.

Teresa and Joe Giudice of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” fame both served time in federal prison for fraud charges. After Joe’s stint behind bars, he was deported to his native Italy in 2019.

And Erika Girardi and her husband, attorney Thomas Girardi, of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” were sued last year after he allegedly embezzled funds meant for victims of the 2018 Lion Air plane crash to pay for their lavish lifestyle. Erika has since filed for divorce.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.