The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star Jennifer Shah was arrested Tuesday on charges of wire-fraud conspiracy and money-laundering conspiracy for her role in an alleged “telemarketing scheme,” the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office announced. Shah’s assistant, Stuart Smith, was also arrested in the alleged scam.
A federal judge in Utah agreed Tuesday afternoon to release the pair with certain restrictions: They can’t speak to each other, nor can they “engage in telemarketing.” Another court appearance is expected on Wednesday in Manhattan, where the case is being prosecuted.
The indictment alleges that from 2012 to March 2021, Shah and Stuart “carried out a wide-ranging telemarketing scheme that defrauded hundreds of victims” throughout the U.S., “many of whom were over age 55.” Federal prosecutors allege that Shah and Smith did so by selling victims purported “business services.”
Shah and Smith then participated in a “coordinated effort to traffic” lists of potential victims, referred to as “leads” in the indictment. They allegedly did this knowing that these people would be scammed by others involved in the telemarketing scheme.
Some participants in this fraud sold services “purporting to make the management of Victims’ businesses more efficient or profitable, including tax preparation or website design services, notwithstanding that many Victims were elderly and did not own a computer.”
Shah and Smith received a share of the sketchy revenue, under an agreement with other participants in the fraud scheme.
“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 press release. “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.”
Shah, 47, and Smith, 43, each face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing “through which they victimized 10 or more persons over the age of 55,” which can result in a maximum 30-year prison sentence. They each face one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Shah’s work has been the subject of curiosity before, stemming in part from the crew of assistants who travel with her everywhere. During part one of the season-one reunion, Andy Cohen asked Shah a question from a viewer: “Why do you need four assistants?” He asked her to “break down what each of them do for you outside of clapping for your fabulous outfits and driving you around.”
Shah replied, “I need a lot of help, you know? They all do different things … I run a lot of different companies and businesses, and a lot of them have different roles in the companies.”
Cohen then asked Shah what she did for work.
“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 responded.
In a November interview with Bustle, Shah said she founded and ran the companies JXA Fashion, Shah Beauty, and The Real Shah Lashes and that marketing was “the core business” she led for almost two decades. “I’m actually a nerd at heart,” Shah said, citing an affinity for algorithms, spreadsheets, and “all the other stuff everyone else finds boring.” Bustle added, “Jen explains that her companies handle direct-response marketing, and though about 90 percent of the work is now online, she used to specialize in infomercials, direct mailing, and print.” Elsewhere in the interview, she joked that she was “like the Wizard of Oz, the person behind the curtain that nobody sees, but nobody knows how things are working.”
Shah’s reps said in an email to Vulture: “At this time, we have no comment.” When Vulture emailed reps for Bravo asking for comment on Shah’s arrest, they said, “The network is not commenting.” Bravo announced in February that there would be a second season of RHOSLC.
On a March 19 episode of the Bitch Sesh podcast, Cohen was asked whether they were already filming season two. He responded, “Yes, ma’am, we are filming. It is winter in Salt Lake, and we are knee-deep in snow.”
A fur store in Park City, Utah, posted a photo of Shah and co-star Lisa Barlow on Instagram on February 28 with the caption “A Furbuary to remember thanks to the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. 💋 Our lovable customers, Jen Shah and Lisa Barlow, brought the crew by to film an episode for Season 2. We’ll be on the edge of our seats until then!”
Update, March 31: Shah’s virtual court appearance spiraled into Housewives-style chaos Wednesday because of technological issues with the Skype for Business feed — at one point, there were so many people on the call that she couldn’t get into her own arraignment. The problems were so bad that Manhattan Federal Court Judge Sidney H. Stein ultimately rescheduled Shah’s arraignment for Friday, April 2.
Before the proceeding had even started, there were signs the conference would be disorganized, if not outright messy. About 15 minutes before it kicked off, this reporter heard what sounded like a toilet flushing in the background. (Participants accessed the proceeding with Skype video, whereas the press and public could dial in to a telephone conference line without video, so it’s anyone’s guess who flushed the toilet.)
Not long after, some phone attendees neglected to mute themselves, publicly revealing what was either Bravo or RHOSLC fandom. “Do you watch Bravo?” someone could be heard saying. “It’s the best thing ever.”
“So one of the Housewives got, like, busted for fraud,” someone also said. It wasn’t clear to Vulture how many voices were weighing in on RHOSLC’s merits.
Then came the major tech problems. Shah’s lawyer couldn’t be heard for quite some time. Shah could see and hear Stein, but the judge apparently couldn’t see or hear her. Shah tried to dial in again. By that time, there were too many people on the call — 253 — so Shah couldn’t dial in to her own arraignment.
Dissatisfied with a proposed work-around, Stein decided to reschedule the conference for Friday, so there was time to set up a conferencing system that would allow for more attendees.
Update, April 2, 11:29 a.m.: Shah pleaded not guilty to both charges during an arraignment in Utah this morning. Smith also pleaded not guilty to the same charges.
Stein agreed that Shah should remain released pretrial, but set a $1 million personal recognizance bond, backed by $250,000 in cash or property. Shah’s attorneys had argued unsuccessfully that she shouldn’t have to put up cash, insisting that she wasn’t a flight risk.
At first, it seemed like Stein might agree, pointing out that Shah “is a participant in a popular television show” and that “her image is active on social media.”
“I must say, it’s unlikely that she could disappear somewhere and not be located,” Stein remarked.
Prosecutors said that Shah and Smith had amassed “no less than $5 million in crime proceeds” in the past few years, and had access to this cash, upping the risk of flight. They also said Shah “has not demonstrated a willingness to disclose her assets” with pretrial services.
Stein also directed Shah “to not have any drug use and not have excessive use of alcohol.” While this is a typical bail condition, it is unclear how this will play out on the show, given that the Real Housewives universe is rooted in boozy dustups.
This is a breaking news story and has been updated throughout.