MANHATTAN (CN) — A federal judge sentenced “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah to six and half years in prison on Friday for a multimillion-dollar telemarketing scheme that targeted victims over the age of 55 with worthless products.
Shah had pleaded guilty in July, one week before her case was set to stand trial in New York, to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a telemarketing scheme.
Senior U.S. District Judge Stein interrupted Shah’s criminal defense lawyer Priya Chaudhry multiple times during Friday’s sentencing hearing, at one time delivering a sharp rebuttal to the attorney’s assertions that the telemarketing victims never spoke directly with Shah and had probably never heard her name.
“Because she was too high in the conspiracy to deal with the individual victims,” the Clinton-appointed judge interjected. “She was either selling leads to sales floors — she definitely didn’t have to talk to victims then — she was selling the names of addresses, contact information of people that had been previously been susceptible to scams.
“She had those names. She bought them, and she sold them to the people who were actually going to run the telemarketing sales floor,” he continued. ”Later she actually ran, owned and operated one of those sales floors, and even then she was too high to talk to the victims. She was too important. She was the leader of this conspiracy, so the fact that she never talked to a victim actually cuts against you, not for you.”
Normally, the conspiracy charge would carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, plus five years of supervised release. The stipulation that the 49-year-old reality TV star reached with prosecutors, however, had set her sentencing guideline range from 11.25 years to 14 years.
Shah, who was wearing beige pantsuit and leopard print stiletto heels on Friday, pledged to "repay each and every cent" to the victims of the scheme.
Pressed by Judge Stein on how exactly she intends to make the numerous victims whole, Shah promised to turn over earnings from new episodes of the Bravo series to a restitution fund.
The judge ordered Shah to forfeit $6.5 million, 30 designer handbags and jewelry, as well as 78 counterfeit items, and to pay $6,645,251 in restitution. He also ordered her to complete five years' post-release supervision.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman noted that the restitution agreement contained over a thousand names of victims.
“It’s a decade. Day in, day out, working hard,” the prosecutor said, describing the scale of the fraud. “She had tentacles in sales floors across this country.”
Southern District of New York prosecutors asked for a sentence of 10 years in prison on the basis that Shah, among the multiple defendants entangled in the fraud, was “the most culpable person charged.”
“At the defendant’s direction, victims were defrauded over and over again until they had nothing left,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing letter. “She and her co-conspirators persisted in their conduct until the victims’ bank accounts were empty, their credit cards were at their limits, and there was nothing more to take.”
The government also noted that, prior to her July 2022 guilty plea, Shah tried to capitalize on the charges by selling such merchandise as a “Justice for Jen Shah” T-shirt baring “NOT GUILTY” on the front and “#justiceforjenshah” on the back.
Judge Stein inquired on Friday about Shah's swag, which Chaudhry said had been taken down, with the proceeds of the sales turned over as part of the restitution order.
Shah’s attorneys requested a three-year sentence for her guilty plea, but prosecutors rebutted that proposal as lighter than the sentences imposed on co-conspirators in the telemarketing conspiracy who were far less culpable than Shah was. Jack Kavner and Chad Allen, for example, were sentenced to roughly four years in prison with respective guidelines ranges of 51 to 63 months and 63 to 78 months.
Judge Stein made a point to differentiate Shah, the defendant, from her reality television persona. "The ‘Real Housewives’ franchise involves role-playing, it involves editing, it involves characters who are given scripts — it’s a heavily scripted operation," he said. “People shouldn’t confuse — and the court isn’t going to confuse — the character that she plays on an entertainment show with the person I have before me.
“One is acting, the other is — forgive me — reality.”
Prosecutors dropped a money laundering count from Shah's two-count indictment in consideration of her pleading guilty to the single conspiracy count.
“With today’s sentence, Jennifer Shah finally faces the consequences of the many years she spent targeting vulnerable, elderly victims," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said 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.”
Shah’s change of plea came after her 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.
With her sentencing looming, Shah did not appear in the December reunion for season 3 of the Bravo reality show.
Shah was accompanied to the court hearing on Friday by her husband, Sharrieff “Coach” Shah, the longtime cornerbacks and special teams coordinator for the University of Utah Utes.
Shah is set to surrender to federal custody on Feb. 17, 2023, six weeks from the sentencing hearing. Her attorneys requested a recommendation to be housed at the Federal Prison Camp, Bryan, minimum-security federal prison for female inmates in Texas.
This story is developing...
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.