NEW YORK – A member of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” pleaded guilty Monday to a fraud conspiracy charge that could result in a prison sentence of over 11 years.
Jennifer Shah, 48, of Park City, Utah, entered the plea to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in Manhattan federal court after signing a plea agreement with prosecutors a day earlier that carries a recommended sentencing range of 11 to 14 years behind bars.
She told a judge that beginning in 2012, she participated in a massive telemarketing fraud for nearly a decade that prosecutors say cheated thousands of people nationwide, including some over age 55.
She said she knew that she was teaming up with others to market products to people “that had little or no value.”
“I knew this was wrong and that many people were harmed and I’m so sorry,” Shah told Judge Sidney H. Stein.
Sentencing was set for Nov. 28. Shah remained free on bail but did not speak as she left the courthouse and walked a short distance to a waiting vehicle.
In a statement afterward, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams called Shah a “key participant in a nationwide scheme that targeted elderly, vulnerable victims.”
He added: “These victims were sold false promises of financial security but instead Shah and her co-conspirators defrauded them out of their savings and left them with nothing to show for it.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kiersten Ann Fletcher said Shah acted as a “lead broker,” directing what sales workers said to their victims and sharing in illegal profits, using some of the money to pay for the New York City apartment where she lived and for other personal items.
As part of her plea agreement, Shah agreed to forfeit $6.5 million and to pay $9.5 million in restitution.
Fletcher said Shah engaged in a fraud from 2012 to March 2021 that sold bogus services that were promoted as capable of enabling people to make substantial amounts of money through online businesses.
Prosecutors said Shah and others delivered lists of people to purchasers of the “Business Opportunity Scheme” that actually consisted of others who had previously paid to create their own online businesses.
They said she lied about how much individuals could earn after buying the businesses services and the purported success of others who had bought the services.
Shah began operating a Manhattan-based sales floor that sold the fraudulent products, Fletcher said.
From 2018 to 2020, Shah controlled the day-to-day operations of the Manhattan operation and moved some of its operations to Kosovo to dodge law enforcement and regulatory scrutiny, the prosecutor said.
Prosecutors said Shah took various steps to hide her role in the fraud, including by incorporating her business entities using third parties’ names, instructing others to do the same and directing others to use encrypted messaging applications to communicate with each other. They said she also made numerous cash withdrawals structured to avoid currency transaction reporting requirements.
Fletcher said Shah told one co-conspirator to lie under oath when questioned by the Federal Trade Commission and provided him with written talking points to follow during the deposition.
She added that tax returns showed Shah had underreported her proceeds from the fraud by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Shah also acknowledged during her plea that she had undergone treatment two years ago for alcohol and depression.
This story has been updated to correct that Shah, not Fletcher, acknowledged treatment for alcohol and depression, and that Shah agreed to pay $9.5 million in restitution, not $9.5.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.