Jen Shah — a star of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” — has been sentenced to six years and six months in prison for her role in a years-long telemarketing scam. NBC News first reported the sentencing.
On July 11, Shah pleaded guilty to the fraud charges against her, and agreed to make restitution of more than $9 million to her victims. She also agreed to forfeit $6.5 million to the government. The federal court case against Shah has taken place in the Southern District of New York in front of Judge Sidney Stein since she was arrested on March 30, 2021 — much of which was captured on camera during filming of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”
According to accounts from those in the courtroom — the Southern District doesn’t livestream its proceedings — Shah’s own lawyers appeared to do her no favors. During her attorney’s remarks to Judge Stein, she invoked Shah’s Hawaiian heritage, and said, according to tweets from Inner City Press: “She began on Hawaii, a land of elders. Now elders, her victims, are teaching her.” The judge, meanwhile, asked about the merch on Shah’s website, and whether her “her hunger for trinkets predates the show?”
The proceeding continued in that vein when the U.S. attorney delivered annihilating remarks about Shah’s victims, and how little she took their plights seriously during her company’s ongoing fraud. “She mocked the victims,” the U.S. attorney said. “She wrote, ‘You’re making her fall in love with you.'”
When it was time for Shah to talk, she blame Bravod for how she’s appeared on the show. According to Inner City Press, she said, “But reality TV has nothing to do with reality, even my tagline, ‘Shah-mazing’ — they wrote it.”
She also apologized to the victims. “My actions have hurt innocent people,” she said. “I want to apologize by saying, I am doing all I can to earn the funds to pay restitution.”
Shah also also said she’s still on “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” which will help her make restitution.
Shah then apologized again. “This is a crucible moment for me,” she said. “With the proper medication I can now see what happened. I wish I could have stood outside myself. I am sorry. I have found solace in my volunteer work, with anti-racism organizations and the LGBT community.” With that, she addressed her family, apologizing to her son and to her late father.
She then thanked the judge, who immediately went to sentencing her to 78 months in prison. “I do remember some of the text she sent belittling the victims,” he said. “She brazenly continued and hid her activities including moving operations overseas.” He then added, “I’m keeping you on supervised release for five years, Ms Shah, to make sure you don’t end up committing another crime.”
Judge Stein then said she has the right to appeal, and directed her to report to prison “in the Texas region” — as her attorney requested — on Feb. 17.
Priya Chaudhry, Shah’s attorney, sent this statement to Variety after the sentencing Friday: “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.”
In a Dec. 16 filing to the court from Shah’s attorneys on her behalf, she’d requested leniency. Her lawyers downplayed her role in the scam, and argued that because of Shah’s background — and because she is an “exceptional mother and a good woman who has already been punished extensively as a result of the sins of her past” — she should receive a sentence of three years in prison.
And in a fascinating claim, Shah’s lawyers also characterize “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” as a “heavily-edited facsimile of ‘reality’ intentionally manipulated to maximize ratings,” and say of Shah’s onscreen self that “little else is real about her persona and caricature as portrayed by the editors of RHOSLC.”
Fans of the show might especially raise an eyebrow at this assertion by Shah’s lawyers, given how ferociously she proclaimed her innocence on camera: “Worse, due to editing, scripting, and the network’s complete control over the ‘story-line’ of the RHOSLC, as her sentencing date approaches, Ms. Shah has been made to seem intransigent, defiant, and often even unrepentant, about her actions here.”
At Shah’s sentencing in New York City on Jan. 6, her lawyers’ arguments did not hold sway.
The government laid out its case in the United States v. Jennifer Shah in a damning sentencing memo on Dec. 23, opening with this assertion: “For nearly a decade, the defendant was an integral leader of a wide-ranging, nationwide telemarketing fraud scheme that victimized thousands of innocent people. Many of those people were elderly or vulnerable.”
Since Shah pleaded guilty the week before her criminal trial was set to begin in July, in the memo, the U.S. attorneys built their case about why — in the government’s view — she should serve 10 years in prison.
In the memo, federal prosecutors state again and again that Shah was a “leader” in the telemarketing scam, which had been under investigation for years (long before Shah made her Bravo debut in November 2020). According to the U.S. attorneys, “She and her co-conspirators persisted in their conduct until the victims’ bank accounts were empty, their credit cards were at their limits, and there was nothing more to take,” with most of the victims being elderly targets. According to the prosecutors, Shah also took “extravagant steps to conceal her criminal conduct from the authorities,” and directed her co-conspirators to lie and destroy evidence.
As for Shah’s specific crimes, for years, according to the government’s evidence, she bilked her victims by selling them worthless “coaching sessions” along with other products, such as tax preparation services. And she appeared to know it was illegal: In 2015, Shah gave sworn testimony about one of her companies, in which she admitted to providing others with contact information for susceptible potential victims of telemarketing scams.
The federal prosecutors also quote texts from Shah that — to the ear of any fan of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” — do sound very much like her. “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!!!!!!” was her apparent reaction to the arrest of two of her colleagues in 2017. Later that year, as directed to an employee who told Shah that one defrauded victim wanted a refund, she wrote, “Do we need to refund this [victim name] lady? Or is she done crying and ready to move forward?” And in 2018, she began an angry rant to her former friend and coworker Stuart Smith — who was also featured on “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” (before pleading guilty himself) — with, “Look bitch…I’m doing you a favor.” Then she detailed why she was angry with another co-conspirator.
Without mentioning that Shah is on “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” the prosecution memo says that she “tried to profit off the charges by selling ‘Justice for Jen’ merchandise.” It also scathingly mentions her post-arrest “public offensive” to protest her innocence, citing, among other statements, her Season 2 tagline without saying what it was: “The defendant, appearing to mock the charges in this case, also claimed that ‘the only thing I’m guilty of is being Shah-mazing.’”
The memo also includes a number of victim statements from those Shah scammed, most of whom are in their 60s and 70s. They all chronicle how Shah’s grift devastated them, both financially and emotionally. One victim became homeless; another describes being unable to care for her “critically ill” husband and father, and writes to Shah directly: “The burden you have caused me is overwhelming, I can’t even really put words to the amount of anguish you have caused.”
As for why she committed these crimes, the U.S. attorneys point out that Shah’s lack of a financial motivation makes her an anomaly among her co-conspirators. “Unlike any of the others,” the memo reads, “the defendant had a spouse who made a very good living: she had no need to commit the crime to support herself or her family, she did so out of pure greed.”
In the third season of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” which is currently airing on Bravo, Shah’s looming court case has been a major plot point. As is her wont, viewers have seen Shah swing from the highest highs (throwing a birthday party for her husband Sharrieff Shah, a special teams coordinator for the University of Utah’s football team), and the lowest lows (confessing she attempted suicide amid her legal woes). For the first half of the season, she appeared to will herself into being the show’s most carefree, high-spirited cast member, even as she faces prison and being separated from Coach Shah and her two sons.
But as the season got closer to her real-life trial, Shah’s forced joy has crumbled, and she’s lashed out repeatedly at other members of the cast. In an unfortunate, irritating whodunnit that’s played out over multiple episodes, Shah even emerged as a suspect in giving Heather Gay a black eye off-camera during a drunken night in San Diego. Gay has so far refused to say how it happened, and Shah appeared to be surprised by her friend’s shiner — but fellow castmate Whitney Rose (and a lot of viewers) have pointed their fingers at Shah for Gay’s injury.
“The Real Housewives” franchise has plumbed these true-crime depths before, with fascinating results. In October 2014, Teresa and Joe Giudice, stars of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” were both sentenced to prison for defrauding banks. (After her release from prison, Teresa picked up where she left off, and remains at the center of the show.) Also in 2014, Apollo Nida, the then-husband of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta’s” Phaedra Parks, went to prison for identity theft and bank fraud. And most recently, for the past two seasons of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” the downfall of Erika Girardi — due to her estranged husband’s allegedly prolific financial crimes — have at last made that show riveting television.
In the first two minutes of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” this season, in a preview of a future episode, Shah screamed at her castmates, “Everything’s been taken away from me! Everything!” That phrasing is revealing, of course, given the nature of Shah’s crimes — and who took what from whom, as the government proved.
But with the season ending on Jan. 11 next week, and since Shah’s lawyers, as she wrote on Instagram last month, forbade her from attending the show’s upcoming reunion, it’s unclear whether Bravo viewers will ever hear her taking responsibility for anything at all. It appears Shah will head to prison without ever confessing her guilt to the “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” audience — which might be her most Shah-mazing trick of all.