“The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah and her assistant/partner both pleaded not guilty to charges they defrauded hundreds of mostly older people over the past nine years.
Shah and Stuart Smith, appearing in a virtual hearing before a judge in New York City, each pleaded not guilty to the two charges against them: Conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The judge also ordered Shah sign a $1 million personal bond, secured by $250,000 in cash or property — and to have it co-signed by two “financially responsible” people — to remain free during court proceedings.
As has been previously reported, Shah was renting the huge home she lived in during filming of “RHOSLC” and, according to her attorneys, she does not own other homes. (When some “Housewives” fans tried to create controversy over the “Shah Chalet” being rented, Shah — in a since-deleted Instagram post — questioned if it was because they “wish they could afford to pay the rent plus own 4 other homes and have an apt in NYC?”)
The government’s demand for that $1 million guarantee prompted a dispute over whether Shah poses a flight risk. According to Kiersten A. Fletcher, assistant U.S. attorney, Shah surrendered an expired passport, but the government does not know if she has another passport.
Judge Sidney Stein questioned whether it would be possible for the “Real Housewives” star to flee and disappear. “Miss Shah, I’ve come to learn, is a participant in a popular television show,” he said. “Her image is active on social media. I must say, it’s unlikely she could disappear somewhere and not be located.”
Fletcher argued that Shah “did not disclose … really any information about her assets. And her disclosures with respect to her income, in the government’s views, really cannot be correct.”
Shah listed no assets in her report to the court, Fletcher said.
The prosecutor said that since 2017, Shah and Smith “have incorporated multiple shell companies to receive the proceeds of the telemarketing schemes.” Just one of the companies has “received no less than $5 million in crime proceeds.”
Fletcher said there have “a large number of cash withdrawals” from those companies, and the government does not know where that money is.
As for Shah’s high visibility because of “Real Housewives,” Fletcher said, “It’s not clear to the government, and I take it ... that it’s not clear to Miss Shah whether she will remain a public figure ... as a result of this case.” But, Fletcher added, the charges carry “a very, very significant penalty ... and not withstanding her current public persona, given her resources ... that public persona is insufficient to insure her appearance in court.”
Shah’s attorney, Henry Asbill, argued, “I don’t think she could flee anywhere and not be visible.”
Stein ruled “there is some risk of flight here,” but he allowed her to remain free on the conditions that she sign the $1 million bond, she surrender any travel documents she has and apply for no more; her travel is restricted to Utah, New York and Washington, D.C. (where Asbill is located); she can have no contact with co-defendants, witnesses or victims except in the presence of lawyers; she must continue with mental health treatments; she must avoid any drug use or excessive use of alcohol; she cannot open new bank accounts or lines of credit unless approved by the court; and she cannot engage in telemarketing.
At a hearing Tuesday in Utah, the judge restricted Shah to spending no more than $10,000 per transaction, except on lawyers’ fees; Stein cut that to $5,000.
While Smith’s attorneys argued he is not a flight risk, Fletcher pointed out that $15,000 in cash was found in his home when it was searched. Smith agreed to terms similar to Shah’s to remain free, including the $1 million bond. He agreed to put up his house for that bond.
The federal indictment, filed in the Southern District Court of New York, alleges the fraud often began with people who had initially invested in a purported online business opportunity with other participants in the scheme, and that Shah, Smith and their associates then sold those investors services that would make their business more efficient or profitable, “including tax preparation or website design services, notwithstanding that many victims were elderly and did not own a computer.”
The charges against Shah and Smith are part of the telemarketing fraud prosecution known as the Cheedie case, so called because one of the 10 other defendants arrested in November 2019 (including Kevin Handren of Sandy) is named Anthony Cheedie. And, according to Fletcher, Shah and Smith “are really at the highest levels of the scheme, as it’s charged.”
Four New Jersey men charged in the case have already pleaded guilty. The other six, along with Shah and Smith, are scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 18.
Shah, who is married to University of Utah assistant football coach Sharrieff Shah, made a splash on Season 1 of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” with her emotional outbursts and feuding with other members of the cast — along with her often over-the-top fashions and lavish spending. Smith also appeared on the Bravo channel reality series as Shah’s lead assistant.
[Read more: Jen Shah can be ‘terrifying,’ but she’s electric on ‘Real Housewives of Salt Lake City’]
The first attempt to arraign Shah and Smith was canceled on Wednesday when Shah was unable to connect to the hearing in New York City when the lines were seemingly overloaded by “Real Housewives” fans, some of whom could be heard chattering in the background after failing to heed repeated requests that they mute themselves.
On Friday, court staffers muted the lines of all but the participants — but one of Shah’s lawyers apparently was connected on both his phone and his computer, creating an echo that rendered the call unintelligible and delayed the proceedings.