the law

Happy New Year to Everyone Except Jen Shah

Photo: Chris Haston/Bravo via Getty Images

The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star Jen Shah is scheduled to be sentenced on January 6, 2023, for her involvement in a telemarketing scam after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in July. When Shah copped to her crime, the infamously unapologetic reality-TV star showed out-of-character contrition, saying, “I knew this was wrong; I knew people were harmed” and “I am so sorry.” Shah was busted by the Feds on March 30, 2021, on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering for her involvement in the scam. It was all caught on camera in a riveting episode of RHOSLC.

Her onetime assistant and close friend Stuart Smith was also arrested. Smith — who appeared frequently on the show around his boss, Shah — pleaded guilty on November 19, 2021, and was poised to turn on his ex-boss. The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office charged that Shah and Smith “carried out a wide-ranging telemarketing scheme that defrauded hundreds of victims” across the U.S., “many of whom were over age 55” — in other words, vulnerable older people. Prosecutors maintained that the duo did so by pushing sketchy “business services.” During her guilty plea, Shah admitted in court that these business services had “little or no value.” So what exactly does 2023 hold for Shah?

Prison, Most Likely

While Shah admitted to her crime under a plea deal, that was in no way a no-prison agreement. In exchange for pleading guilty, federal prosecutors agreed that an appropriate sentencing range would be between 135 and 168 months, or 11 to 14 years in federal lockup. Shah is also required to pay up to $9.5 million in restitution. That said, the judge in Shah’s case doesn’t have to follow this sentencing recommendation, which means the maximum Shah faces is 30 years in prison. Shah’s legal team filed paperwork asking for leniency, arguing that a 36-month sentence was appropriate.

Embarrassment, Most Definitely

Shah’s outsize personal brand has revolved around the finer things in life, such as her penchant for couture clothing and designer jewelry, not to mention the impressive manse she once had: the “Shah Ski Chalet.” Shortly after Shah’s arrest, it became clear that her persona conflicted with her reality. The New York Post reported, for example, that Shah didn’t own her so cleverly nicknamed home and that it was a rental. Judging from recent court documents, it’s very likely that we will learn more about how Shah’s Champagne tastes couldn’t keep up with her seemingly actual “Champagne of beer” budget. On December 15, prosecutors filed paperwork revealing that the Feds seized dozens of counterfeit designer purses when they raided her house nearly two years ago as well as fake jewelry. Some of Shah’s Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent goods were authentic, to be clear, but there was plenty of faux Fendi and Chanel in her closet.

Delusion, Kind of Likely

One of the many arguments Shah made in her plea for leniency is that she has been a voice for the voiceless throughout her life. There is a section in her sentencing argument actually titled “Due to Her Celebrity Status, Which She Has Used to Significantly Advance the Rights of Marginalized and Disenfranchised Communities, Jen Is Uniquely Positioned to Benefit Society.” When Shah became famous, her lawyers said in a December 16, 2022, court filing, “she redirected that light onto those who have been left in the dark for their race, religion, sexual orientation, or beliefs.” They went so far as to say that “often the only voice speaking out for the rights of disenfranchised Utahans, Jen has earned a place as a champion for the marginalized. Her fans and followers look to Jen to speak out for them, defend them, and encourage them to swim harder when the tides of injustice pull them under.”

She claims that a more lenient sentence would help her help others. “Her story will be powerful and watched keenly by millions, who want to see her come back having paid her debt to society so she can pay her debt to the victims here. But more than that, they want to see Jen be the champion they need — still standing up for them, fighting for them, and leading the way in the never-ending battle for equality in America,” they argued. A redemption arc, if you will.

Meanwhile, Shah’s husband, Sharrieff Shah Sr., is asking the judge to give his wife a less hefty sentence and, according to the Post, blamed much of her bad antics on himself, including his travel-intense work schedule: “Because of my absence, I was not able to see how badly my wife was suffering. As I think about it now, I saw her spending more time in our bedroom alone. She often fell asleep in [our] children’s bed waiting for me to come home. She would constantly tell me that she feels so alone.”

Consequences, Certainly

Not at all surprisingly, prosecutors are pushing for a hefty sentence — ten years, in fact. They squarely placed a lot of the responsibility for this marketing scheme squarely on Shah — and slammed her initial claims of innocence. “For nearly a decade, the defendant was an integral leader of a wide-ranging, nationwide telemarketing fraud scheme that victimized thousands of innocent people,” they said in a December 23, 2022 filing. “Many of those people were elderly or vulnerable. Many of those people suffered significant financial hardship and damage. At the defendant’s direction, victims were defrauded over and over again until they had nothing left. 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.”

Prosecutors also called out Shah’s proclamations of innocence until, they said, she realized that a trial would not go her way. “She then went on a public offensive and tried to profit off the charges by selling ‘Justice for Jen’ merchandise,” they argued. “She pled guilty at the eleventh hour, only after receiving the Government’s trial exhibits and witness statements. In light of her conduct and her post-arrest behavior, her belated expressions of remorse ring hollow.”

Happy New Year to Everyone Except Jen Shah