Jen Shah is facing real-life drama.
The “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star and her assistant have been accused of running a telemarketing scheme that federal prosecutors say took advantage of hundreds of “vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The 48-year-old faces multiple counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. She has a pretrial hearing on Tuesday.
“I certainly don’t think that [her reality TV status] is something that helps, in all candor,” he explained. “I think people who are in the public eye that find themselves in these legal situations – the scrutiny that comes with being in the public eye, I think, presents challenges that are not in favor of the person. So I don’t think that it is something that would be in her favor.”
Prosecutors said the scheme enticed people to invest in an online “business opportunity,” and then sold them tax preparation or website design services, despite many of the people not owning computers.
Prosecutors accused Shah and her assistant of selling lists of potential victims that were generated from telemarketing “sales floors” in Utah, Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere. The sales floor owners allegedly worked with telemarketing operations in New York and New Jersey.
Shah was arrested in March 2021 by New York detective Christopher Bastos in Salt Lake City after she received a perplexing phone call. She believed the call was tied to an order of protection she has out against a man who once attacked her and was convicted of multiple felonies in New York. After the call, she received another call from Bastos believing it was also tied to the protective order.
Bastos, who told Shah to pull over as she was driving to a shoot in Utah, arrested her as a suspect in the telemarketing fraud case. But as Shah asked whether she was going to jail, she told officials that Bastos made her believe she “might be in danger, and that the police might be there to help me.”
Leonard stressed that the legal battle is no laughing matter.
“This is a very serious situation,” he said. “I would hope and pray that good people are out there and they’re not hoping for this kind of drama. … I would hope that this is a misunderstanding of some kind because nobody wants to see anybody go to jail and be separated from their family. Trust me, people who have been through it don’t wish that on their worst enemy. The same humility that she should practice is the same one others who are watching should do as well. They should be hoping and praying for the best. So we need to see how this plays out.”
“People from the outside may be looking at this as if it were theater,” he continued. “As if it’s entertainment. But this is someone’s life. This is not a reality TV show. And just because she’s on a reality TV show, it doesn’t mean that you should want to see bad things happen to her for entertainment.”
Shah’s attorneys have argued that she was coerced.
“Although Ms. Shah waived her Miranda rights, she did not do so voluntarily, but rather as a direct result of law enforcement deception and trickery calculated to overpower her will,” her attorneys said.
Prosecutors have argued that they turned over more than a million documents and the contents of hundreds of electronic devices, which defense attorneys argued make it impossible to understand or respond to specific claims.
The wire fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years, while the money laundering charge carries a maximum of 20, Women’s Health reported.
“In all honesty, there’s not much that she could do to prepare for prison if it comes to that,” said Leonard. “I’m sure she’s hoping that is something she can avoid and that it won’t go in that direction. It’s certainly not a conversation she needs to have right now.”
Shah’s defense attorneys have argued she wasn’t the only one who Bastos lied to. They said some evidence was uncovered in searches authorized based on police statements that were inaccurate or incomplete.
They argued Bastos described Shah as the “operator” of two companies that allegedly did business with the sales floors, but her attorneys said she was “middle management” of one and not an employee of the other. As a result, the attorneys argued Bastos falsely inflated Shah’s involvement.
Leonard said that he “would hope and pray” for Shah that she has found humility during this legal battle.
“How does one practice humility? It’s difficult to articulate, but it needs to come from a genuine and sincere place,” he said. “It’s one that the government and the judge – not the court of public opinion – can accept. You cannot approach this from an emotional standpoint. Wise choices need to be made here based on logic. This is a very difficult and potentially life-altering situation not just for her, but her for family. You need to evaluate the strengths of the government’s case and all the evidence.”
“I can tell you that the United States government is certainly not out there looking to go after television personalities,” he shared. “They are investigating criminal wrongdoing and whether appropriate charges need to be brought. In this case, it just so happened that the target of the investigation was somebody on a television program.”
Shah’s fraud trial is set for March 2022. And Leonard has some words of advice that he said isn’t just for the other Housewives.
“People who find themselves in the public eye need to understand that their lives will be scrutinized,” he said. “You need to make sure your affairs are in order. Because if they’re not, the spotlight tends to find its way to you. And these shows will have the spotlight on you. If you’re going to be in a show like this, get your affairs in order before shining that light onto yourself. Once it’s the light is on, it’s extremely bright. … And it’s not always flattering.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.