Crime and Courts

‘Real Housewives' Star Jen Shah Gets 6 1/2 Years in Prison, Must Forfeit Millions (and Fakes)

On top of the prison sentence, the 49-year-old Shah was also ordered to forfeit $6,500,000, 30 luxury items (and 78 counterfeit luxury items) and to pay $6,645,251 in restitution

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What to Know

  • "Real Housewives" star Jen Shah was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison in NYC federal court in connection with a sweeping national fraud scheme; prosecutors had wanted 10-plus years
  • Jen Shah's attorney, though, says she should spend no more than three years behind bars. The judge came down in the middle -- and also ordered her to forfeit more than $6 million as well as pay more than $6.6 million in restitution, among other measures
  • She previously pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge for participating in a near-decade long wire fraud scheme, one that mainly targeted elderly victims

"Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" star Jen Shah was sentenced Friday to 78 months -- or 6.5 years -- in prison in Manhattan federal court Friday for defrauding thousands of people nationwide in a telemarketing scam, many of them older. The judge gave her less time than prosecutors wanted, but more than the defense had sought.

U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein, who presided over her guilty plea in July to a conspiracy charge for participating in a massive fraud for nearly a decade, also handed down Friday's sentencing.

At the start of her hearing, Stein said he wouldn't sentence Shah to the 11 years or more recommended by federal sentencing guidelines, but he also said he wouldn't grant a defense request that she only spend three years in prison.

The judge came down in the middle -- and also ordered Shah to forfeit $6,500,000, 30 luxury items (and 78 counterfeit luxury items) and to pay $6,645,251 in restitution. She has to complete five years' post-release supervision as well.

Prior to announcing his decision, Stein cautioned a packed courtroom that he was not sentencing the person who people see on television.

That person is “simply a character. It's acting," Stein said, adding that the housewives program "involves role-playing ... It's a heavily scripted operation."

The 49-year-old Salt Lake-born Shah pulled up to the Manhattan federal courthouse Friday morning in a black SUV, then was escorted quickly inside. Wearing a tan coat and phone in hand, Shah hid her face with a Cheetah-print wallet briefly and said nothing as reporters barraged her with questions and cameras on her way into the building.

“With today’s sentence, Jennifer Shah finally faces the consequences of the many years she spent targeting vulnerable, elderly victims," Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said. "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," Williams added.

He praised Homeland Security Investigations’ El Dorado Task Force for its assistance in the investigation.

Prosecutors said in a presentence submission that Shah used profits from her fraud to live a life of luxury that included a nearly 10,000-square-foot mansion with eight fireplaces dubbed “Shah Ski Chalet" in the resort haven of Park City, Utah. The home, they said, is now listed for sale for $7.4 million.

It's sentencing day for the former "Real Housewives" star. Here's raw footage of her arriving to the courthouse in midtown Manhattan ahead of Friday's hearing.

They said she also rented an apartment in midtown Manhattan, leased a Porsche Panamera, bought hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of luxury goods and funded various cosmetic procedures while cheating the Internal Revenue Service of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Prosecutors attacked her behavior after her arrest on March 30, 2021, saying Shah lied to law enforcement in a voluntarily recorded interview before going on a reputation-cleansing public campaign in which she “repeatedly, vehemently, and falsely proclaimed her innocence."

The government said she also seemed to mock the charges against her by claiming that the “only thing I'm guilty of is being Shah-mazing" and then she profited from it by marketing “Justice for Jen" merchandise after her arrest as she directed others to lie while trying to conceal her conduct from investigators.

In court, Shah said that she was "sincerely remorseful" and added that "reality TV has nothing to do with reality."

"I am deeply sorry for what I've done. My actions hurt innocent people," she told the courtroom.

While in public and on the reality show, Shah maintained her innocence, prosecutors said that she only pleaded guilty because they had a mountain of evidence against her.

The fraud, authorities said, stretched from 2012 to March 2021 as bogus services were promoted as enabling people to make substantial amounts of money through online businesses. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman told the court that Shah was the head of the telemarketing scheme that sold non-existent services, specifically targeting older individuals, and then fought their efforts to get refunds.

"Shah worked hard to make as much money for herself at the expense of vulnerable people," prosecutors stated.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys minimized Shah's role in the fraud in their presentence submission to the judge, saying there were “many, many people" involved in the long-lasting telemarketing scheme that led so many individuals to buy worthless services from companies in which Shah was involved.

They wrote that the fraud was “a mistake that has not only ruined her own life, but has broken her heart as she has watched the damage that her actions have caused."

It was carried out, the lawyers said, “as part of an industry operating with a fine line between what is legal and illegal.”

“Ms. Shah was involved in both the legitimate and fraudulent sides of this industry,” her lawyers said.

Noting that one individual already sentenced in the fraud received more than seven years in prison, the lawyers said Shah wasn't like codefendants who “are essentially career conmen; people who have spent their lives hopping from scheme to scheme; professional fraudsters without an honest dollar to their names.”

They added: “Before she committed these acts, Ms. Shah’s entire life, for more than four decades, was marked by hard, honest work, respectable achievement, and a hard-earned reputation for true generosity.”

Shah will surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on Feb. 17. She requested to be sent to a minimum-security federal prison camp near Houston.

"Now is the time to project humility" James Leonard Jr. told Derek Zagami on RealiTea with Derek Z.

'Real Housewives' Drama

Shah has been one of the principal stars of the newest iteration of "Real Housewives," which debuted in late 2020.

During a reunion special in early 2020, Shah tried to explain what exactly she did for a living, after some of her friends said they didn't even understand it themselves.

"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,” Shah said, according to a Bravo recap of the show.

Her "Real Housewives" bio described Shah as "queen of her house and her businesses as the CEO of three marketing companies."

Disclosure: "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" airs on Bravo, which like WNBC is a unit of NBC Universal.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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