Victims of ‘Real Housewife of SLC’ Jen Shah speak on Hulu, and it’s heartbreaking

Shah was a criminal mastermind, but not all that smart about it, a former prosecutor said.

(Seth Wenig | AP) Jennifer Shah leaves federal court in New York, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. A judge has sentenced the member of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” to 6 1/2 years in prison for helping to defraud thousands of people nationwide in a telemarketing scam. Shah, who sobbed Friday as she apologized for her crimes prior to the announcement of the sentence in a New York courtroom, admitted her guilt last July.

There’s been an enormous amount of news coverage of “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah, who’s headed to prison next month after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges. But we haven’t heard much from her victims.

The ABC News-produced documentary “The Housewife’s Scam: The Real Life of Jen Shah” — now streaming on Hulu — features a couple of them, and it’s heartbreaking.

Tricia, a 75-year-old retiree in North Carolina, says she feels “shame” because she was duped out of $47,000 — more than helped her life savings.

“This is not easy for me,” Tricia says, “because I’m telling the world I was stupid enough to get caught in a scam. And I’m not a stupid person, but I did make a big mistake.”

(Rachel Maimin, a former assistant US attorney in the Southern District of New York. says that “very smart people also fall for schemes like this, because the people who design them do it in such a way that even sophisticated investors can fall for it .”)

Tricia, who suffers from congestive heart failure, says she is “just recovering from being in deep depression. You get to the point where there is no way out. … I don’t have the money to take care of myself.”

Molly, 44, from Iowa, says she “probably spent about $44,000 on six credit cards. All, of course, went into bankruptcy because, of course, I couldn’t afford to pay that.”

(Bravo) Jen Shah goes after Meredith Marks in an upcoming episode of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.

Another victim was a 92-year-old World War II veteran who lost more than $100,000 — and then took his own life. According to the documentary, his family believes the scam “contributed to his death.” And, according to prosecutors, there are believed to be thousands of victims.

The documentary does a good job of explaining the fraud scheme — how it ensnared people, and what Shah’s role in it was. Highlights include:

She’ll serve her time

Shah was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering for targeting the “elderly and vulnerable” with the scheme, and she faced up to 30 years in prison. In exchange for pleading guilty to the conspiracy charge, the money laundering charge was dropped. Prosecutors asked that she be sentenced to 10 years; Shah’s attorney argued for 3 years; and the judge split the difference at 6½ years.

And Shah will not be getting out early no matter how good her behavior is. “There’s no parole in the federal system,” says Aaron Katersky, a senior investigative reporter for ABC News. “So she’s going to serve all that time.”

She’s scheduled to report to a federal prison on Feb. 17. She has also been ordered to pay $6 million in restitution. Whether she’ll be able to come up with that when she’s released in 2029 remains to be seen.

(Photo courtesy of Bravo) Jen Shah appears remotely on “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.”

Criminal mastermind?

Shah wasn’t operating alone. She was part of a large scheme that involved dozens of people. But, although she protested that she had just a small role, she was, according to federal prosecutors, one of the ringleaders.

“In court, when Jen Shah’s attorney tried to distance her from the scheme,” says Katersky, “saying that she never met any of her victims, the judge interjected and said, ‘Well, that’s because she was too high up in the scheme to bother to deal with any of the actual people.’”

And Maiman says “the evidence appeared to show” that Shah was the biggest fish caught in the prosecutors’ net.

Not a smart criminal

Among the mountains of evidence were hundreds of text messages Shah sent and received about the scam. Which surprised Maimin, the former federal prosecutor.

“A lot of times, criminals speak in code when they’re trying to hide what they’re doing,” she says, adding that drug dealers never texted anything that mentioned the drugs they dealt. But Shah “didn’t seem to observe any kind of safeguards like that. I think she thought that she was just above being caught.”

The text messages also included Shah telling others involved in the scheme to keep quiet, and to lie to investigators. She also joked about the suffering of some victims.

She texted about moving the operation to Wyoming, where, she believed, laws are more lax. She texted about moving assets out of the country.

(Bravo) Jen Shah and Stuart Smith on “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”

criminal partners

Although Stuart Smith was portrayed on “RHOSLC” as Shah’s assistant, that was not true, according to prosecutors. He was, instead, her “partner in crime.”

When, in the Season 3 finale of the show, Shah accused Smith of being responsible for her downfall, that was at least partly true. Prosecutors had mountains of evidence, but his testimony was key.

“He, in a way, brought her down,” Katersky says. “And we know that it was after Stuart Smith decided to cooperate with the feds and plead guilty himself and start singing about what Jen Shah had been doing — that’s when Jen Shah knew the game was up.”

Shah and Smith were both considered by prosecutors to be among those most responsible for the scam.

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