"Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" star Jen Shah, along with her assistant Stuart Smith, were arrested last Tuesday on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Although both defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges on Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice is accusing Shah and Smith of defrauding hundreds of "vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people." According to an indictment unsealed last week, the duo created a business model that treated clients as "‘leads’ to be bought and sold, offering their personal information for sale to other members of their fraud ring."
The alleged scam began in 2012, and continued until 2021 — when Shah reached the height of her reality TV fame.
Shah, who was filming for the Bravo reality series at the time of her arrest, frequently flaunts her wealth on social media with extravagant outfits, jewelry and designer products. Her nearly 10,000 square-foot rental home is on the market for $4 million, and she employs eight assistants.
“I probably spend $50,000 a month," Shah previously said on the show. And at least one legal expert contends that sort of boasting could come back to haunt her in court.
"I think public exposure, and certainly these shows based on the flaunting of wealth, would definitely make it more likely [for these types of defendants] to be of interest to investigators, and therefore more likely to be the subject or target of investigations," LA-based entertainment & business litigator Devin McRae told Yahoo Finance.
'The Wizard of Oz'
Just last month, Shah was questioned during the series' reunion special on how she made her fortune, and why she needed so many assistants.
“I need a lot of help, you know? They all do different things,” Shah responded. “I run a lot of different companies and businesses, and a lot of them have different roles in the companies.”
But host Andy Cohen still pressed on what exactly Shah does for work.
“My background is in direct response marketing for about 20 years, so our company does advertising," the businesswoman said at the time.
"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,” Shah added.
Shah previously addressed how she finances her "lavish lifestyle" in an interview with Access Hollywood in November.
She gave a similar answer, explaining, "I own three different marketing companies. We do lead generation, data monetization, so it's customer acquisition. I'm basically, the best way to describe it is, I'm the Wizard of Oz."
But, according to McRae, Shah's answers to these types of questions "would probably be relevant" to the charges she's facing. The lawyer explained that what reality stars "say on these shows could be used against them — particularly if it's relevant to the subject matter."
Shah is not the only "Real Housewives" star to fall into legal trouble.
Back in 2018, "Real Housewives of New Jersey's" Teresa Giudice was sentenced to 15 months in prison after being charged, alongside then-husband Joe Giudice, in a 39-count indictment.
The charges included conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, bank fraud, making false statements on loan applications, and bankruptcy fraud. Joe was sentenced to 41 months and deported to Italy upon his release.
"I don't think you get much sympathy for being a public figure," McRae said — adding that a higher perceived status won't help a defendant avoid a charge or achieve a lesser sentence.
Overall, the klieg lights of being a reality star “can actually lead to a harsher sentence," he warned.
Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193