NEW YORK (AP) — Jennifer Shah, a tearful member of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” who insisted she is not the character she plays on the show, was sentenced Friday to 6 1/2 years in prison for defrauding thousands of people, many of them vulnerable or older, in a telemarketing scam that stretched nearly a decade.
Shah, 49, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein as a leader of a nationwide fraud that targeted people who were often unsophisticated electronically and could least afford to lose their money.
Shah pleaded guilty in July to a conspiracy charge. Prosecutors sought a 10-year prison term, which would have been a year under the federal sentencing guidelines' minimum recommendation but well above the three years in prison that Shah's lawyer suggested.
At the outset of Friday's hearing, Stein cautioned a courtroom packed with Shah's family and friends and members of the media that he was not sentencing the person people see on television.
Stein said that person was “simply a character. It’s acting.” And he added that the housewives program “involves role playing. ... It’s a heavily scripted operation.”
His words were echoed by Shah, who told the judge: “Reality TV has nothing to do with reality."
She apologized to the “innocent people" she said she'd hurt and pledged to pay $6.5 million in restitution and forfeiture when she gets out of prison.
“I struggled to accept responsibility for the longest time because I deluded myself into believing ... that I did nothing wrong," Shah said, calling it her “own fractured reality."
“For years I blamed other people for putting me in this position," believing she was duped and manipulated, she said.
“I alone am responsible for my terrible decisions. It was all my fault and all my wrongdoing," Shah said. “I have no one to blame but myself. ... I wish I could have stood outside myself and seen the harm I was causing and changed course. I am profoundly and deeply sorry."
During the hearing, defense lawyer Priya Chaudhry said her client has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent months.
“Remorse can be genuine even if it shows up late. ... Her apology is real," she said.
After the sentencing, Shah left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. She will report to prison at a later date.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman said Shah was a leader of a “clear and brazen fraud" that stretched from 2012 to March 2021 as bogus services were promoted as enabling people to make substantial amounts of money through online businesses. He called her the most culpable among more than 30 defendants.
“She always knew what she was doing wrong," he said, noting her efforts to slow the investigation into her misdeeds by lying to investigators and taking evasive actions to obscure her true role in the fraud.
In a presentence submission, prosecutors said she used profits from the fraud to live a life of luxury that included a nearly 10,000-square-foot mansion with eight fireplaces dubbed “Shah Ski Chalet" in the resort haven of Park City, Utah. The home, they said, is now listed for sale for $7.4 million.
They said she also rented an apartment in midtown Manhattan, leased a Porsche Panamera, bought hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of luxury goods and funded various cosmetic procedures while cheating the Internal Revenue Service of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The government said she also seemed to mock the charges against her by claiming that the “only thing I'm guilty of is being Shah-mazing" and then she profited from it by marketing “Justice for Jen" merchandise after her arrest as she directed others to lie while trying to conceal her conduct from investigators.
At sentencing, Shah said proceeds from merchandise sales, which have been shut down, will go to victims.
The judge, though, said victims may be made whole financially, but they “can't really be made whole emotionally."
“Their lives have been turned upside down," Stein said.
Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press