LOWER MANHATTAN, New York City -- "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" cast member Jennifer Shah was sentenced Friday to six and a half years in prison for defrauding thousands of people, many of them vulnerable or older, in a telemarketing scam that stretched nearly a decade.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman said Shah was a leader of a "clear and brazen fraud" that stretched from 2012 to March 2021 as bogus services were promoted as enabling people to make substantial amounts of money through online businesses. He called her the most culpable among more than 30 defendants.
Judge Sidney Stein said Shah's role on the RHOSLC played no role in his sentencing decision.
"The character your client plays on the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City is simply a character," Stein told the attorneys. "The Real Housewives franchise involves role playing, editing. People should not confuse, and this court is not going to confuse, the character she plays on an entertainment show with the person I have before me."
Shah, in a camel pant suit, sat between two lawyers. Her husband, Sharieff, was seated behind her in a slate blue suit. He raised his hand when introduced by defense attorney Priyah Chaudhry.
"For the rest of Ms. Shah's life she will remember their names," Chaudhry said of the victims. "Ms. Shah knows she has devastated the lives of so many."
Stein interrupted the expression of sympathy to ask "Is she still selling 'Free Jen' or 'Justice for Jen' merchandise on her website or has that been taken down?"
Chaudhry said Shah is no longer selling the items and has saved the proceeds for restitution.
The defense insisted Shah understood the victims "had very little to begin with and now they will struggle even more," but when Chaudhry said none of the victims had ever talked directly to Shah, Judge Stein cut in.
"Because she was too high in the conspiracy to deal with victims," Stein said. "She was too important. She was a leader. So the fact that she never talked to a victim works against you."
Federal prosecutors called it "preposterous" to portray Shah as a mere seller of lists for other telemarketers to defraud.
"She's laughing over text messages talking about defrauding these people," assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Silverman said. "It's not as if she simply sent a computer file to someone."
Silverman said it was "really difficult" to hear the defense cast Shah as self delusional and somehow unaware of the severity of her crimes.
"It's a decade, day in and day out, working hard to defraud people," the prosecutor said. "This defendant was prolific. She made a lot of money from this scheme."
Shah conceded she "struggled to accept responsibility for the longest time" but said she now accepts responsibility for her actions.
"I am profoundly and deeply sorry," Shah said.
Silverman doubted Shah's expressions of remorse.
"There's not one message that expressed remorse," Silverman said. "It's fair to conclude that's not how she felt."
Silverman spoke of the victims of the fraud.
"These are older, vulnerable women whose lives were turned upside down by the defendant's telemarketing fraud," he said.
The six and a half year sentence is below the 10 years the prosecution sought, but more than double what the defense hoped for.
Shah was ordered to pay $6.6 million in restitution as part of her sentence along with $6.5 million in forfeiture. The judge also approved the forfeiture of "a great number of items: handbags, wallets, jewelry and so forth."
The judge said he was "a little concerned" Shah's manager was present in court. He warned her against trying to profit from her crime and instead focus on raising money to repay victims.
"Ms. Shah was integral to the scheme," Judge Stein said. "No victim ever earned any of the promised returns."
Shah, through tears, apologized for bringing "shame, embarrassment and pain" to her family and broke down more fully when she said to her younger son, Omar, "Mommy is so sorry for the trauma you endured when you were woken up at gunpoint" the day of her arrest.
When Shah promised to "repay every cent," the judge interrupted to ask, "How do you intend to do that?"
She answered, haltingly and coached by her attorney, "I plan that when I am out of prison to use my platform and raise the money that way. I hope that I'm able to work again."