One of the stars of the popular Real Housewives of Salt Lake City could soon be featured in her own Real Housewives spin-off in federal prison, following a guilty plea in federal court.
Jennifer Shah, 48, pleaded guilty Monday in a New York City court to a federal charge related to a nationwide telemarketing scam that preyed upon and defrauded elderly victims, the Daily Wire reported.
Shah had initially pleaded not guilty to the charges against her, but changed her plea Monday to agree to a deal that will involve her forfeiture of $6.5 million, payment of restitution to victims of up to $9.5 million, and a prison sentence that is likely to be around 14 years.
Admission of guilt
NBC News reported that Shah suddenly changed her plea Monday in the Manhattan courtroom of District Judge Sidney Stein and acknowledged that she was guilty of committing wire fraud.
In accepting the plea deal, Shah admitted to the court that she knew her telemarketing scheme was “wrong,” that she had conspired with others and “misled” her victims with “misrepresentation of the product” and “value of the service,” and that she was aware that some of her victims were elderly citizens, and issued an apology to those she had harmed.
The outlet noted that Shah had pleaded not guilty in April 2021 to charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering and was slated to stand trial this week, but instead changed her plea to avoid trial and have the conspiracy charge dropped. A co-conspirator, Shah’s assistant Stuart Smith, had changed his plea from not guilty to guilty in November and is awaiting sentencing.
Defrauding the elderly with false promises of business opportunities and investment returns
In a press release Monday, U.S. Attorney Damien Williams said, “Jennifer Shah was a key participant in a nationwide scheme that targeted elderly, vulnerable victims. 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.”
That release described Shah as the ringleader of a fraudulent “Business Opportunity Scheme” in which victims were promised an opportunity to make money following an initial investment only to then have their information sold as “leads” to other participants in the scheme who would further defraud the victims of money for false promises of future returns.
When Shah was first charged in March 2021, U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said, “Jennifer Shah, who portrays herself as a wealthy and successful businessperson on ‘reality’ television, and Stuart Smith, who is portrayed as Shah’s ‘first assistant,’ allegedly generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam.”
“In actual reality and as alleged, 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,” Strauss added.
“She accepts full responsibility”
“Ms. Shah is a good woman who crossed a line,” Shah’s defense attorney, Priya Chaudhry, told PEOPLE following the guilty plea. “She accepts full responsibility for her actions and deeply apologizes to all who have been harmed.”
The lawyer added, “Ms. Shah is also sorry for disappointing her husband, children, family, friends, and supporters. Jen pled guilty because she wants to pay her debt to society and put this ordeal behind her and her family.”