It’s not often that Real Housewives drama gets the attention of a network news division, but ABC News Studios is covering The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star Jen Shah’s current legal issues in The Housewife and the Shah Shocker, now streaming on Hulu. The special follows this June’s The Housewife and the Hustler, which focused on the allegations facing The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Erika Jayne and Tom Girardi.
Jayne, however, has been a Housewife for five years now, while the news of Shah’s indictment came just four months after RHOLC debuted. So what’s all the hubbub around the Bravo star?
In March 2021, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that Shah and her “assistant” Stuart Smith had been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
“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,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. “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.”
According to the unsealed indictment, Shah and Smith are two of the alleged participants accused of defrauding hundreds of people, with many of the “leads” 55 years old or older. As part of their “significant efforts to conceal their roles” in the scheme, Shah and Smith allegedly incorporated their business entities using third parties’ names, had their shares of certain proceeds sent to offshore bank accounts, and withdrew cash to get around currency transaction reporting requirements, the indictment adds.
Shah and Smith are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing affected 10 or more persons over the age of 55, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Peter C. Fitzhugh, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations, said, “Shah and Smith flaunted their lavish lifestyle to the public as a symbol of their ‘success.’ In reality, they allegedly built their opulent lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people.”
As ABC News reports, Homeland Security Investigations’ El Dorado Task Force has been working on the case since 2016. A narcotics arrest led to an indictment of several telemarketers in what’s now known as the Ketabchi case in 2017, and two years later, federal prosecutors charged another 10 individuals in what’s known as the Cheedie case, in which Shah and Smith are now charged. Prosecutors say that the “facts and circumstances” of the Cheedie case “largely involve an extension of the criminal conduct” alleged in the Ketabchi case.
In early April, both Shah and Smith pleaded not guilty to their charges, and the Real Housewives star was released from jail on a $1 million bond, according to NBC News. Her attorneys said she “maintains her innocence of these charges and is eager to defend herself in a court of law.”
But on November 19, Smith changed his plea to guilty on all three of his charges, telling the court that he “knowingly and intentionally discussed and engaged with other individuals to develop a plan or operation to obtain money by false representations” and that the “services sold were of no value and of no real benefit to the consumer.”
Now, Smith — whose sentencing is scheduled for March 3, 2022 — might end up testifying in Shah’s case. “Stuart knows where the bodies are buried, and I think that if he testifies, that’s gonna be a devastating witness for her,” criminal defense attorney Ron Richards told ABC News. “She is going to have a hard time attacking his credibility because they were best of buddies until the arrest.”
The Hulu special features an interview with Marie Walker, a 67-year-old preschool teacher in Georgia, who says she sent $18,000 to telemarketers — including $1,000 to a company prosecutors say Shah and Smith ran — in exchange for help with website-building, marketing, and social media.
“If I can talk to the people that scammed me, I would say, ‘Would you do this to your mother? To your sister? And why, why would you do this? And why would you keep doing it? Or do you have a conscience about it?’” Walker said. “‘Cause I know I couldn’t do this.”
On RHOSLC and in the media, Shah has spoken ambiguously about her job, even while throwing lavish parties and living in her “Shah Ski Chalet.”
“I think in the beginning, fans thought she was making lots of money for that lifestyle, but over time things didn’t add up,” said Dana Wilkey, a podcast host and a former “Friend” on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Koa Johnson, a fashion designer who worked for Shah, added, “She did say in a couple of her interviews that she’s the Wizard of Oz. The woman behind the curtain. I don’t think she’s the wizard, I think she’s the Wicked Witch of the West.”
So far, 13 defendants have been charged in the Cheedie case, and Shah is one of only three who haven’t pleaded guilty, according to ABC News. Her trial is scheduled to begin on March 7, 2022.
The Housewife and the Shah Shocker, Now Streaming, Hulu