"Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" star Jennifer Shah entered a not guilty plea Friday on federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, in connection with a purported long-running telemarketing scam.
A federal judge in New York City also imposed tighter bail conditions for Shah during a virtual hearing after a prosecutor suggested she was still hiding illicit proceeds from the alleged fraud and is a flight risk. Agents searching her home found debit cards from the account of a shell company formed as part of the scheme, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kiersten Fletcher.
“She’s not demonstrated a willingness to disclose her assets,” Fletcher said.
Shah will remain free under an order to post a $1 million bond secured by $250,000 in cash or property and co-signed by two other people. Her lawyers had called the requirement to put up property excessive because she’s too famous and eager to fight the charges to try to slip away.
At a previous hearing, Shah and a co-defendant, Stuart Smith, were released only on conditions barring contact with each other, traveling outside of Utah or engaging in telemarketing. Smith, who has appeared as Shah’s assistant on the show, also pleaded not guilty on Friday.
Shah and Smith’s original arraignment was disrupted on Wednesday after Shah was unable to connect to the virtual hearing due to technical difficulties.
"Jennifer Shah, who portrays herself as a wealthy and successful businessperson on ‘reality’ television, and Stuart Smith, who is portrayed as Shah’s ‘first assistant,’ allegedly generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam. In actual reality and as alleged, the so-called business opportunities pushed on the victims by Shah, Smith, and their co-conspirators were just fraudulent schemes, motivated by greed, to steal victims’ money," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement at the time.
The NYPD has alleged that Shah and Smith have "hundreds" of victims. According to the indictment against them, their alleged scam ran for at least nine years, from 2012 until this month.
Her "Real Housewives" bio describes Shah as "queen of her house and her businesses as the CEO of three marketing companies."
But prosecutors allege that Shah and Smith instead ran a complicated scheme to generate lists of potential victims, many over age 55, and sell those leads to telemarketing companies that would in turn try to sell business services to the victims.
Shah and Smith would then purportedly receive a share of the allegedly fraudulent revenue those telemarketers generated.
Shah and Smith tried to hide their role in the fraud by using third-party names for their business entities, telling victims to use encrypted messages to communicate with them and instructing people to send some payments to offshore bank accounts, the indictment said.
The pair “generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam,” prosecutors said. “In actual reality and as alleged, the so-called business opportunities pushed on the victims by Shah, Smith and their co-conspirators were just fraudulent schemes, motivated by greed, to steal victims’ money.”
The fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. A trial date was set for Oct. 18 in Manhattan.
'Real Housewives' Drama
Shah is one of the principal stars of the newest iteration of "Real Housewives," which debut last November and was renewed in February for a second season.
During a reunion special last month, Shah tried to explain what exactly she did for a living, after some of her friends said they didn't even understand it themselves.
"My background is in direct response marketing for about 20 years, so our company does advertising. We have a platform that helps people acquire customers, so when you’re shopping online or on the Internet, and something pops, we have the algorithm behind why you’re getting served that ad,” Shah said, according to a Bravo recap of the show.
PR reps for Shah had no comment on her arrest.
Disclosure: "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" airs on Bravo, which like this NBC station is a unit of NBC Universal.