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‘Real Housewives’ star pleads guilty to ripping off older business owners

Jen Shah, featured in both seasons of the franchise set in Salt Lake City, faces federal prison time for a scheme that targeted victims over the age of 55 with worthless products.

MANHATTAN (CN) — One week before her federal trial was set to kick off in New York City, reality television star Jen Shah pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a telemarketing scheme.

Shah, a recurring cast member of "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City," read from a brief statement during a hearing scheduled for her change of plea this morning.

“I knew this was wrong — I knew people were harmed,” Shah said. “I’m so sorry.”

Wearing a blue-black pantsuit and white face mask to protect against coronavirus transmission, Shah admitted to the presiding judge that the services and products her telemarketing company sold victims “had little or no value.”

“Furthermore, while doing this, I knew many of the purchasers were over the age of 55,” said Shah, who herself is 48.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York dropped a money laundering count from Shah's two-count indictment in consideration of her pleading guilty to the single conspiracy count.

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 following Thanksgiving.

Jen Shah, a cast member of the reality television series "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" leaves Manhattan federal court on July 11, 2022, after pleading guilty to a count of wire fraud conspiracy. (Josh Russell/Courthouse News)

Normally, the conspiracy charge would carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, plus five years of supervised release. Shah meanwhile agreed to a stipulation with prosecutors that sets her sentencing guideline range from 11.25 years to 14 years.

Even so, the sentencing guideline range from the plea agreement is not binding, and Judge Stein may sentence Shah up to the 30-year maximum penalty.

“Jennifer Shah was a key participant in a nationwide scheme that targeted elderly, vulnerable victims,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement Monday afternoon. “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.”

Shah was accompanied to the court hearing on Monday by her husband, Sharrieff “Coach” Shah, the longtime cornerbacks and special teams coordinator for the University of Utah Utes.

The change of plea comes after Shah's co-defendant Stuart Smith, a former assistant to the reality TV star, pleaded guilty in November 2021. Smith is awaiting sentencing.

When the duo were arrested in March 2021, "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" had only wrapped up its first season a month earlier. Both initially pleaded not guilty, and Shah vehemently maintained her innocence ahead of her delayed July trial date. Season two of Shah's program aired on Bravo for six months through March 2022.

Last Tuesday afternoon, Shah arrived 90 minutes early to her final pretrial conference in Manhattan federal court, wearing a black-and-white checkered pantsuit, large Valentino sunglasses, a Gucci rhinestone belt and a large Gucci bag.

Jen Shah, a member of the "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" cast, arrives at federal court in Manhattan on July 5, 2022, for a pretrial conference ahead of her July 18 trial. Shah faces money laundering and wire fraud charges in connection with a telemarketing scheme that preyed on vulnerable and elderly victims. (Josh Russell/Courthouse News Service)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kiersten A. Fletcher said on Monday the government was prepared to use cooperator witnesses and electronic communications to show how Shah and Smith targeted small-business owners, usually of a certain age, with marketing for business services such as tax preparation or website designs that they said could drive efficiency and profits for clients' companies.

To demonstrate how Shah “intentionally underrported her crimes’ proceeds 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 Department of Justice’s money laundering and transnational criminal enterprises unit said the fraud scheme operated between 2012 and 2021, ripping off hundreds of victims nationwide for a decade, many of whom were over 55 and didn’t 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 of the courthouse after the change of plea hearing on Monday morning.

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