Reality TV star Jen Shah of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” was unable to participate in her own court arraignment on Wednesday due to technical issues caused by more than 250 people calling in to the virtual hearing.
Shah and her assistant, Stuart Smith, were arrested and charged on Tuesday in connection with a telemarketing scheme that defrauded hundreds of people, many of whom are over the age of 55, according to a superseding indictment that was unsealed this week.
They have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, the release said.
The 47-year-old reality TV star was set to virtually appear before Judge Sidney Stein, with the US District Court, for a planned arraignment on Wednesday. But a series of technical issues and an overloaded conference call line caused the hearing to be postponed.
During the hearing, some ignored the judge’s repeated request asking everyone to mute their lines. At one point, according to CNN affiliate KSTU reporter Ben Winslow, someone could be heard saying. “I’m on for the Housewives trial” and another person chiming in “Do you watch Bravo?”
Both Shah and her lawyer, Clayton Simms, had technical issues with the video conference. They were told by the judge to call into the conference bridge — but Simms said Shah was unable to connect to the call because a limit for the meeting was already reached.
Stein ultimately adjourned the proceedings due to technical difficulties making it impossible for Shah to participate in her own hearing. He rescheduled the arraignment for Friday.
On Tuesday, Shah and Smith, 43, were released from federal custody after appearing before US Judge Dustin Pead in Salt Lake City federal court, according to a a news release from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Prosecutors did not ask for either of them to remain in custody, and Judge Pead ordered them released without bond. The terms of the release include prohibiting the pair from engaging in telemarketing while their case is pending. They also are not allowed to move more than $10,000 out of their personal accounts without the permission of prosecutors.
Shah and Smith were ordered to remain in Utah.
CNN reached out to both Shah and Smith’s attorneys for comment but have not received a response. Bravo has declined to comment.
An alleged nine-year scheme
The charges stem from a nine-year scheme in which prosecutors say Shah and Smith “sold alleged services purporting to make the management of victims’ businesses more efficient or profitable.” These services included tax preparation and website design services, though many of their elderly victims did not own a computer, the release said.
Part of the scheme also included Shah and Smith allegedly trafficking lists of potential victims, called “leads.” Many of the victims had already previously made an initial investment to create an online business with other participants in the scheme, the release said.
Shah and Smith also “undertook significant efforts” to hide their role in the scheme. Part of these efforts included incorporating their business entities using third-party names and telling other participants to do the same.
The duo also directed others to use encrypted messaging applications to communicate with other members of the scheme, instructed them to send shares of certain fraudulent proceeds to offshore bank accounts and “made numerous cash withdrawals structured to avoid currency transaction reporting requirements.”
“Shah and Smith flaunted their lavish lifestyle to the public as a symbol of their ‘success.’ In reality, they allegedly built their opulent lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, special agent-in-charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations.
The first season of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” debuted in November 2020.
Shah is described by Bravo as “the queen of her house and her businesses.” During the show’s reunion episode in February, Bravo host Andy Cohen asked Shah to clarify what she does for a living.
“My background is in direct response marketing for about 20 years, so our company does advertising,” she said in response. “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.”