Perhaps one of these days someone in Hollywood will do an all-female reboot of Boiler Room or Glengarry Glen Ross.
Until then, the off-screen schemes of Bravo’s Real Housewives characters might have to fill the gap.
Jen Shah, part of the cast of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City (yes, the franchise has made it all the way to the Beehive State), and her bag man who also appears in the show, Stuart Smith, were arrested Tuesday on wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy charges.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan alleged that Shah, 47, with help from “first assistant” Smith, 43, and others, peddled questionable “business services” such as tax preparation and website design to elderly victims across the country who in many cases didn’t even own a computer.
Although not quite the same as the shady real estate sales scheme portrayed in Glengarry Glen Ross, the 1992 masterpiece starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris, the alleged fraud in Shah’s case has some echoes. Notably, that as part of the operation “Shah and Smith objectified their very real human victims as ‘lead’ to be bought and sold, offering their personal information for sale to other members of their fraud ring,” prosecutors said.
The pair “coordinated effort to traffic in lists of potential victims, or ‘leads,” many of whom had previously made an initial investment to create an online business with other participants in the scheme,” prosecutors said.
Shah and Smith are accused of controlling which sales floors could buy “leads” from them, choosing which services the individuals would be targeted for, and deciding how much the sales personnel could charge for the services. (In Glengarry Glen Ross, much of the plot revolves around salesmen trying to prove their mettle in order to access a supposedly much more appealing batch of “leads.” Meanwhile, 2000’s Boiler Room is about sleazy brokers pushing bad stock investments on victims over the phone.)
The vast enterprise encompassed lead-generating sales floors in Arizona, Nevada and Shah’s home state of Utah, and telemarketing sales floors in the New York and New Jersey area, including in Manhattan, according to the government.
Prosecutors claimed Shah and Smith directed participants in the scheme to communicate through encrypted messaging apps, and instructed them to send shares of profits to offshore bank accounts, which they purportedly made withdrawals from through “structured” transactions to avoid financial reporting requirements. (A common money laundering red flag.)
The proceeds of this scheme were used to fund the lavish lifestyle flaunted by Shah and Smith on the Bravo show, according to prosecutors. The TV show, which has also had installments in New York, Atlanta, New Jersey, California’s Orange County and Beverly Hills, Miami, and elsewhere, focuses on groups of wealthy women who get into various social dramas.
To be clear, at this stage the Feds have by no means proven that this scheme indeed occurred and that people were ripped off. Only that there is enough evidence to bring the case.
But Shah’s and Smiths arrests makes them part of a growing list of reality stars brought up on criminal charges, and makes them the third and fourth Real Housewives star to face prison time over an alleged fraud. If you remember, Real Housewives of New Jersey cast members Teresa and Joe Guidice both served time for overstating their assets in loan applications and understating them in bankruptcy filings. Joe was later deported to his native Italy.
If convicted, Shah and Smith could face up to 30 years in prison, although in practice the sentences meted out in federal fraud cases often depend heavily on the total monetary size of the scheme (not provided so far by prosecutors, though they say there were “hundreds” of victims) and the judge’s discretion.
In her cast bio, Shah is described as being of “Tongan and Hawaiian” descent, and feeling like she “often stuck out in the traditionally white, Mormon world” of Salt Lake City. She converted to Islam from Mormonism, the most popular religion in Utah, “when she learned about the historical mistreatment of black people in the Mormon religion.”
Married with two children, she is described as “the queen of her house and her businesses as the CEO of three marketing companies.”
“Always decked out in designer brands, Jen loves to host parties and spares no expense — it is important to her that everyone knows she is the best host in Utah.”
A video posted by a Twitter user yesterday shows Shah leaving the courthouse in Utah where she appeared yesterday, flanked by news photographers. She was wearing brown boots, jeans and a black jacket.