"Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" cast member Jennifer Shah was sentenced Friday to 6 1/2 years in prison in connection with a telemarketing fraud case.
Shah, 49, pleaded guilty in July 2022 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was ordered to forfeit $6.5 million after previously pleading not guilty. She must also pay restitution to victims of the nationwide telemarketing scheme that prosecutors said targeted elderly, vulnerable victims.
Shah, in a camel pant suit, sat between two lawyers. Her husband, Sharrieff, was seated behind her in a slate blue suit. He raised his hand when introduced by defense attorney Priya Chaudhry.
Judge Sidney Stein said Shah's role on the show played no role in the sentencing decision.
"The character your client plays on the 'Real Housewives of Salt Lake City' is simply a character," Stein told the attorneys. "The 'Real Housewives' franchise involves role playing, editing. People should not confuse, and this court is not going to confuse, the character she plays on an entertainment show with the person I have before me."
"For the rest of Ms. Shah's life she will remember their names," Chaudhry said of the victims. "Ms. Shah knows she has devastated the lives of so many."
Stein interrupted the expression of sympathy to ask, "Is she still selling 'Free Jen' or 'Justice for Jen' merchandise on her website or has that been taken down?" Chaudhry said Shah is no longer selling the items and has saved the proceeds for restitution.
The defense insisted Shah understood the victims "had very little to begin with and now they will struggle even more," but when Chaudhry said none of the victims had ever talked directly to Shah, Stein cut in.
"Because she was too high in the conspiracy to deal with victims," Stein said. "She was too important. She was a leader. So the fact that she never talked to a victim works against you."
- 3November 29, 2021
Chaudhry said in a statement following the sentencing: "Jen Shah deeply regrets the mistakes that she has made and is profoundly sorry to the people she has hurt. Jen has faith in our justice system, understands that anyone who breaks the law will be punished, and accepts this sentence as just. Jen will pay her debt to society and when she is a free woman again, she vows to pay her debt to the victims harmed by her mistakes."
Federal prosecutors called it "preposterous" to portray Shah as a mere seller of lists for other telemarketers to defraud.
"She's laughing over text messages talking about defrauding these people," assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Sobelman said. "It's not as if she simply sent a computer file to someone."
Sobelman said it was "really difficult" to hear the defense cast Shah as self-delusional and somehow unaware of the severity of her crimes. "It's a decade, day in and day out, working hard to defraud people," the prosecutor said. "This defendant was prolific. She made a lot of money from this scheme."
Shah conceded she "struggled to accept responsibility for the longest time," but said she now accepts responsibility for her actions. "I am profoundly and deeply sorry," Shah said.
Sobelman doubted Shah's expressions of remorse: "There's not one message that expressed remorse. It's fair to conclude that's not how she felt."
Sobelman also spoke of the victims of the fraud. "These are older, vulnerable women whose lives were turned upside down by the defendant's telemarketing fraud," he said.
The judge said he was "a little concerned" Shah's manager was present in court. He warned her against trying to profit from her crime and instead focus on raising money to repay victims.
"Ms. Shah was integral to the scheme," Stein said. "No victim ever earned any of the promised returns."
Shah, through tears, apologized for bringing "shame, embarrassment and pain" to her family and broke down more fully when she said to her younger son, Omar, "Mommy is so sorry for the trauma you endured when you were woken up at gunpoint" the day of her arrest.
When Shah promised to "repay every cent," the judge interrupted to ask, "How do you intend to do that?"
She answered, haltingly and coached by her attorney, "I plan that when I am out of prison to use my platform and raise the money that way. I hope that I'm able to work again."
Ivan J. Arvelo, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in New York, said in a statement to ABC News: "Shah's fraud scheme targeted and exploited vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people. She and her co-conspirators built their publicly lavish lifestyles on the false promises of financial independence offered to their victims -- victims who to them, were merely 'leads' to be bought and sold. Shah's crimes have had deep, lasting impacts on the lives of her victims and today's significant sentence and forfeiture reflects the seriousness of her crimes."
Federal prosecutors had requested Shah serve 10 years in prison. The defense said she should serve no more than three.
"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. Ms. Shah is also sorry for disappointing her husband, children, family, friends, and supporters," Shah's defense attorney, Priya Chaudhry, said in a statement at the time. "Jen pled guilty because she wants to pay her debt to society and put this ordeal behind her and her family."
Federal prosecutors cited Shah's flamboyance in their sentencing memorandum as a reason she deserves a decade in prison.
"Despite the defendant's best efforts, she got caught. She then went on a public offensive and tried to profit off the charges by selling 'Justice for Jen' merchandise," prosecutors wrote. "She pled guilty at the eleventh hour, only after receiving the Government's trial exhibits and witness statements. In light of her conduct and her post-arrest behavior, her belated expressions of remorse ring hollow."
In December, a judge ordered the reality TV star to forfeit dozens of designer handbags, jewelry and more as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. The 108 items were seized in March 2021 in a search of Shah's home. The inventory included scores of counterfeit bags and jewelry stamped with fake Chanel, Gucci, Bulgari and Hermès labels.