Court hearing for ‘Real Housewives’ star delayed after too many joined the videoconference

Reality TV personality Jen Shah couldn’t connect remotely with a hearing in New York City.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" star Jen Shah drives away from Salt Lake City federal court, March 30, 2021.

The arraignment for “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah and her assistant/partner has been postponed until Friday because of technical difficulties.

After repeated failures to connect with Shah for a videoconference Wednesday, Judge Sidney Stein rescheduled it. There were, he said, 253 people connected via video or telephone and, apparently, the system could not handle the volume.

“Well, the defendants are entitled to a public arraignment,” Stein said.

During the 45-minute delay, while attempts were made to link Shah into the hearing, court staffers repeatedly told others dialed into the videoconference — including, apparently, a number of “Real Housewives” fans — to mute themselves.

Shah and Stuart Smith were arrested Tuesday and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The defendants and their lawyers, who are all in Utah, were scheduled to appear remotely in a New York courtroom. Smith and his lawyer were on the conference call, but in a scene perhaps reminiscent of “Real Housewives,” Shah’s lawyer was connected and she was not.

Shah and Smith are expected to enter a plea at the arraignment. And the prosecutor said she plans to make “some proposed changes to the defendants’ bail conditions.”

At their first hearing in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, hours after they were arrested, Shah and Smith agreed to several standard conditions for their release: They must appear at all hearings, cannot have contact with each other, cannot commit new crimes, must surrender their passports and cannot travel outside of Utah except to New York for further court hearings. They also agreed not to “dissipate cash or assets” or “spend any money from personal or company accounts” in excess of $10,000, except to pay for lawyers.

According to the federal indictment, filed in the Southern District Court of New York, the alleged fraud involved people who invested in a purported online business opportunity with other participants in the scheme.

The case against Shah and Smith is tied to a larger telemarketing fraud prosecution that has resulted in charges against 10 other people, including another Utahn.

In November 2019, 10 men — including Kevin Handren of Sandy — were arrested, and each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing through which they targeted and victimized 10 or more persons over the age of 55.

The other defendants include two men from Arizona, one from Nevada and six from New Jersey; two of them were also charged with obstruction of justice.

In words that would be echoed in Tuesday’s announcement of the arrests of Shah and Smith, Geoffrey S. Berman, then the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in 2019, “as alleged, these 10 defendants, motivated by greed and the possibility of a quick payday, aggressively targeted the elderly and other vulnerable victims throughout the United States by convincing them to invest their money in various businesses, and then scammed those victims again after pushing them deep into debt. In reality, allegedly these so-called opportunities were just fraudulent schemes to steal victims’ money, and the so-called ‘debt relief’ only further abused the trust innocent victims placed in the defendants.”

Four of the New Jersey defendants entered guilty pleas; the other six cases, including Handren’s, are working their way through the court.

Both the 2019 charges and the charges against Shah and Smith state that the fraud began in 2012; both state that the fraud began with selling “business 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 are accused of selling lists of “leads” that had been generated from “sales floors” in Utah, Arizona and Nevada, among other places. The owners of those “sales floors” allegedly “operated in coordination with several telemarketing sales floors in the New York and New Jersey area … and provided lead lists and assistance in fighting victim refund requests” from victims of the fraud.