“Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah, who’d been accused of running a nationwide telemarketing scheme targeting seniors, pleaded guilty to wire fraud on Monday in a dramatic courtroom reversal.
Shah appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein in Manhattan and entered into an agreement with federal prosecutors, changing her plea to guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
In front of Judge Sidney Stein shortly after 10:30 a.m., Shah entered into an agreement with federal prosecutors, changing her plea to guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
She agreed to forfeit $6.5 million and to pay restitution up to $9.5 million and faces a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
Shah, 48, said in court she “knew it was wrong, many people were harmed and I’m so sorry.”
She admitted that she “agreed with others to commit with wire fraud” and “knew it misled” victims, over 10 of which were over the age of 55.
Shah added there was a “misrepresentation of the product … regarding value of the service,” noting it “had little to no value.”
When asked if she knew what she was doing was wrong and illegal, she replied, “Yes, your honor.”
Shah’s attorney, Priya Chaudhry, told NBC News her client pleaded guilty “because she wants to pay her debt to society and put this ordeal behind her and her family.”
“Ms. Shah is a good woman who crossed a line. She accepts full responsibility for her actions and deeply apologizes to all who have been harmed,” she said in a statement. “Ms. Shah is also sorry for disappointing her husband, children, family, friends, and supporters.”
“Jennifer Shah was a key participant in a nationwide scheme that targeted elderly, vulnerable victims,” Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement following her plea.
“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. This Office is committed to rooting out these schemes whatever form they take,” he continued.
Shah was previously scheduled to stand trial beginning next week.
She pleaded not guilty in April 2021 to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The latter charge will be tossed, the plea agreement states.
According to a copy of the agreement obtained by NBC News, Shah won’t be further criminally prosecuted by the Southern District of New York’s Office and “at the time of sentencing, the Government will move to dismiss any open Count(s) against the defendant.”
She and her “first assistant,” Stuart Smith, were accused in March 2021 of committing wire fraud and money laundering in a scheme in which they “generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
They operated multi-state telemarketing and in-person sales teams that would sell “essentially non-existent” services and fight consumer efforts to obtain refunds from 2012 through 2021, according to an indictment.
“Shah and Smith undertook significant efforts to conceal their roles in the Business Opportunity Scheme. For example, Shah and Smith among other things, incorporated their business entities using third parties’ names,” the indictment said.
Smith also pleaded not guilty to the charges in April 2021, but later changed his plea to guilty in November 2021, court records show. It was not clear Monday if he had been sentenced in the case.
Shah appeared on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” which highlights the extravagant lifestyles of the cast, in its first two seasons.
Bravo, owned by NBCUniversal, NBC News’ parent company, declined to comment.
Shah’s opulent daily life was on full display on the show including her luxurious closet full of designer clothes and bags. The series also highlighted her group of assistants dubbed the “Shah Squad.”
She is married to Sharrieff Shah, a cornerbacks/special teams coordinator for the University of Utah football team. According to the Office of the State Auditor, he made about $550,000 in wages and benefits in the 2020 fiscal year.
During the first “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” reunion special, when castmembers reflect on the season, Shah was asked why she needed so many assistants.
“I need a lot of help, you know? They all do different things. I run a lot of different companies and businesses, and a lot of them have different roles in the companies,” she said.
The show’s executive producer, Andy Cohen, then asked, “People are wondering how’d you get so rich?
She replied: “My background is in direct response marketing for about 20 years, so our company does advertising. We have a platform that helps people acquire customers, so when you’re shopping online or on the Internet, and something pops, we have the algorithm behind why you’re getting served that ad.”
The second season of the show featured Shah’s legal woes.
Her sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 28.
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