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“Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah was in her car, driving to a shoot a Season 2 episode of the gossipy Bravo reality series, when she received what she considered a perplexing phone call from a stranger.
The person told Shah that they were calling at the request of Shah’s husband, she recounted in federal court documents filed this week. “The unknown caller told me to head home,” Shah said.
Shah said she began to worry about her husband, University of Utah assistant football coach Sharrieff Shah, who was not answering his phone.
And when a New York City Police detective called her a few minutes later, she said, she became apprehensive that he was contacting her about a man who had once attacked her. She knew the man in New York, she explained, and a few weeks after he was charged there in 2017 with stealing from her, he attacked her in Salt Lake City despite a protective order, Shah wrote.
The man later was convicted of multiple felonies in New York. So when the New York detective called Shah on March 30, just minutes after a mysterious, anonymous phone call, her “first thought,” she said, “was that the call must be related to my order of protection.”
In fact, the detective, Christopher Bastos, was in Salt Lake City, in a car not far from Shah’s. He told Shah to pull over.
Soon Shah was in handcuffs, a suspect in a telemarketing fraud case.
But as Shah asked whether she was going to jail, she wrote, Bastos “repeatedly said words to the effect of, ‘We just want to talk to you’ and ‘I promise we just want to talk to you.’”
“He also told me more than once that ‘We just want to make sure you’re OK,’” Shah wrote. “Det. Bastos’s statements led me to believe I might be in danger, and that the police might be there to help me.”
Shah’s attorneys now say those remarks were dishonest and coerced Shah into waiving her Miranda rights as she was interrogated shortly after she was led to believe her attacker was back in her life.
Bastos, they point out, knew Shah’s history with the man, who prosecutors say was involved in the alleged telemarketing scheme along with Shah, 47, and her assistant, Stuart Smith, 43.
“Although Ms. Shah waived her Miranda rights, she did not do so voluntarily, but rather as a direct result of law enforcement deception and trickery calculated to overpower her will,” her defense attorneys wrote in a court filing, which this week asked a federal judge in New York to dismiss Shah’s charges. She faces counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Shah and Smith — who has made frequent “Real Housewives” appearances with her — are accused in a telemarketing scheme that federal prosecutors say took advantage of hundreds of “vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people.”
The operators of the alleged scheme enticed victims to invest in an online “business opportunity,” and then sold them services such as tax preparation or website design — even though many of the victims were elderly and didn’t own computers, the charges state.
Prosecutors allege Shah and Smith sold lists of “leads” — or potential victims — that had been generated from telemarketing “sales floors” in Utah, Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere. The owners of those sales floors allegedly worked with telemarketing operations in New York and New Jersey to provide lists of potential customers and help fight their refund requests.
Shah’s defense team: Prosecutors haven’t provided enough information for the case to move forward
But the charges don’t sufficiently explain Shah’s precise alleged role, her attorneys argue.
“Ms. Shah is charged with participating in two long conspiracies with unspecified co-conspirators in unspecified places and selling unspecified products and services to unspecified victims, while laundering the money through unspecified accounts with unspecified financial institutions at unspecified times over an eight- or nine-year period,” their filing states. “She simply does not have enough specificity to prevent surprise at trial, to protect against double jeopardy, or to prepare a defense.”
In providing their evidence in the case, prosecutors have turned over more than a million documents — just one of which is more than 100,000 pages long — and the contents of hundreds of electronic devices, which, Shah’s attorneys argue, makes it impossible for the defense team to understand or respond to the specific claims prosecutors plan to make in trial.
“This information cannot be adequately reviewed in a lifetime,” and the indictment is too “bare-bones” to clarify which of the thousands of pages of evidence will be important to the case against Shah, her attorneys argue.
One thing prosecutors have not provided is the entire recording of Smith’s statement after he was arrested. In the excerpts Shah did receive, Smith appears to defend their business dealings, saying he believed the coaching services had value and that some of their customers did earn money.
Shah’s attorneys have asked the judge to order prosecutors to provide Smith’s whole statement. Shah and Smith have been ordered not to contact each other as a condition of their release before trial.
But Shah also wants to block prosecutors from using the statement she made after her arrest, arguing her waiver of her rights was coerced. “Because I was not getting answers to my questions,” Shah said, “I believed that the only way I was finally going to get an answer was to sign the paper and waive my rights.”
The strange anonymous phone call, the unexpected contact from a New York detective, his misleading statements to Shah and other factors “came together to put her in a vulnerable emotional state,” her attorneys argue, “worried for herself, her husband, and about a potentially violent felon tracking her down across multiple states.”
Attorneys say search warrants were based on police ‘misrepresentation’
Shah’s defense team also argues Shah wasn’t the only one who Bastos, the detective, lied to.
Her attorneys claim that some of the evidence from Shah’s phone and email account was uncovered in searches that were authorized based on police statements that were inaccurate or incomplete.
In requesting the search warrants, Bastos didn’t mention that customers in the telemarketing operation “were explicitly told that no earnings promises were being made,” or that some of them did, in fact, make money, Shah’s attorneys wrote. Instead, Bastos wrote that “none” of the victims earned what they were promised, and at one point stated that they didn’t earn “any” of the promised return on their investments.
The search warrant request also identifies Shah as “operator” of two companies that allegedly did business with the telemarketing “sales floors” — but her attorneys say she was “middle management” of one, and was not even an employee of the other.
By describing Shah as “operator” of the two companies, Bastos falsely inflated Shah’s involvement with the alleged telemarketing scheme, her attorneys argue.
Shah and Smith both have pleaded not guilty to the charges. A judge ordered Shah to 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.
Shah listed no financial assets in a report to the court; she was renting the Park City home she lived in during filming of Season 1 of “RHOSLC” and, according to her attorneys, she does not own other homes. But prosecutors have said that since 2017, Shah and Smith have incorporated “multiple shell companies” for the proceeds of the telemarketing schemes, one of which “received no less than $5 million in crime proceeds.”
Prosecutor Kiersten A. Fletcher said there have “a large number of cash withdrawals” from those companies, and the government does not know where that money is.
Staff from the New York Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York did not immediately respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s Tuesday requests for comment.