No season of any Real Housewives show is complete without a real life scandal to compete with its on-air drama, and the new Salt Lake City instalment is no exception. Filming for its second season has already started off with a bang, thanks to the legal firestorm raging around its resident troublemaker Jen Shah.
On Tuesday, March 30, Shah was arrested during filming for The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, later charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering — charges that could lead to 50 years behind bars. Federal prosecutors allege that for almost a decade, Shah and her first assistant (she has many) Stuart Smith have been running an elaborate telemarketing scam and acquiring millions of dollars in the process.
Shah is known for showing off her wealth on RHSLC, often making expensive purchases and throwing lavish, over the top parties to impress her co-stars. But the Justice Department is now saying that Shah's fortune was accumulated through her and Smith's multi-year scam starting in 2012. The department's recently unsealed indictment claims that Shah's company specifically targeted older communities and people who aren't computer savvy, selling them "essentially non-existent" services (including tax preparation and website design) and then refusing to refund them when the jig was up. This scheme ran for nine years, and Shah also allegedly helped others get in on the money-making ploy as well; the prosecutors claim that she "generated and sold 'lead lists' of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam."
There's also clear evidence that Shah and Smith were fully aware of the illegality of their activities. They reportedly "undertook significant efforts" to keep the scheme low-key, making sure that their legal names weren't used in the incorporation of the business and even sending shares of the illicitly-gained funds to offshore bank accounts. Little by little, they would allegedly withdraw smaller amounts of money from those accounts to avoid calling attention to the transactions.
After her arrest on Tuesday, Shah was taken to stand before US Judge Dustin Pead in Salt Lake City's federal court. Judge Pead released her and Smith from police custody without bond, stating that they had to stay in the state of Utah and weren't allowed to participate in their scam throughout the investigation or access more than $10,000 (£7,200) of their personal funds without permission from the prosecution.
On Wednesday, April 1, Shah was scheduled to appear in virtual court before Judge Sidney Stein for her arraignment, but things didn't exactly go as planned. The Bravo star and her legal counsel Clayton Simms reportedly struggled with technical issues; they weren't able to access the conference call because the line was overloaded with more than 250 participants. Ultimately, the judge rescheduled the arraignment for Friday, April 2.
Shah's husband, Sharrieff Shah, has not been charged in connection to the scheme, and neither have any of her Real Housewives co-stars. But the diva's real-life drama will definitely spill into the upcoming season of RHSLC, especially since Jen's source of income and exorbitant spending habits played a significant role in her storyline. Only time will tell exactly how this legal drama plays out, but trust and believe that Bravo fans will be watching every moment of it.