Hello, Tamara Tattles readers! Hulu just dropped another documentary on another Real Housewife who’s been caught in another true crime scandal. We may have already seen plenty about Jen Shah and her pending criminal trial, but Hulu promised new details and interviews with key players in their new documentary, The Housewife and the Shah Shocker. Did Hulu deliver the goods? Let’s watch this together and find out.
Hulu kicked off The Housewife and the Shah Shocker with the iconic clip of Jen Shah getting arrested just minutes before the RHOSLC cast were scheduled to leave for their all-cast Vail trip. After the intro, the one and only “Dame” Brian Moylan of New York Magazine’s Vulture (and author of The Housewives, the NOT Bravo approved Real Housewives history book) popped in as our first talking head pundit to explain how superfans were super jazzed for RHOSLC’s series premiere last year. Kelley Carter, Senior Entertainment Writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated, then gave a brief explanation to the uninitiated on why superfans are so obsessed with these crazy people on these crazy Bravo shows. Scott D. Pierce, the resident TV critic for The Salt Lake Tribune, later added some local flavor.
Next up: the rando’s. I guess Colt Paulsen is some kind of pop culture micro-influencer? We already know that former RHOBH Friend Dana Wilkey is dead set on rebranding herself as some kind of investigative journalist. Apparently, Chris Connelly is another entertainment reporter for ESPN. We already know that RHONY alum Carole Radziwill turned down Disney/ABC/Hulu producers for both of their Housewife documentaries. Was Danielle Staub too busy with her podcast to show up for Round Two? For whatever reason, the producers were committed to roping in just about anyone and everyone for these shows. Don’t they know that we’re all just watching because we want the strong tea that Bravo won’t air on RHOSLC?!
The Housewife and The Shah Shocker gets to the point about seven minutes in.
Is Hulu already preparing us for more Housewife true crime documentaries? The pundits chit-chatted about Mary Cosby’s little situation before they finally got going on Jen Shah. Carter crowned her as “The Queen of the Pop-off”. Moylan quipped on how Jen Shah loves to “bring a nuclear missile to a gunfight”. Really, do we need all this banter over Season 1’s “You Smell Like Hospital Gate” and Jen Shah’s online groupies? OK, finally, they began to discuss Shah’s suspicious bling and Instagram flexing. Finally, Brian Moylan landed this plane: “We don’t really see what Jen is doing at her job. We just see her throwing these crazy parties.”
Finally, here’s where the incredibly talented designer Koa Johnson enters the chat. He explained, “My job was to create an image for her,” as we saw images of the amazing dresses that he custom-designed just for Shah. Wilkey described Shah’s wardrobe and jewelry as part of the “inspirational lifestyle” that Bravo producers love to feature on their shows. Johnson added, “Image is everything to her,” then we returned to Wilkey dishing on “The Shah Squad” of glam professionals and assistants. I guess Hulu wanted to set the scene with Shah’s “lavish lifestyle” to set us up for what lies ahead?
How could Jen Shah afford all of these finest things in life?
Almost ten minutes in, Hulu finally got around to discussing the mysterious “assistant” Stuart Smith. On this show, Wilkey asked, “What does Stuart do for Jen Shah?” Last week in court, Smith pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and obstruction. Johnson said he saw Smith “do computer work and get on the phone” when they were at the office. In a clip from SiriusXM’s The Michelle Collins Show, Shah herself exclaimed, “Stuart would literally do anything. Stuart is all in.” At this point, Hulu brought in some new voices: Aaron Katersky, ABC News’ Senior Investigative Reporter; and Lehua Vincent, Jen Shah’s aunt. Vincent said Shah “worked extra hard to provide a great lifestyle for her sons.” Katersky then asked, “Where does the money come from?”
Following the first ad break, Johnson stated, “Whatever Jen Shah featured on the show, she didn’t own. It was leased or borrowed.” Carter, Connelly, and Wilkey then tried to reconcile Shah’s unreasonably lavish spending with spouse Sharieff Shah’s “reasonable six-figure salary” as a University of Utah football coach and Shah’s own mysteriously “monetizing” business. Cesie Alvarez and Angela Angotti, co-hosts of the always enlightening The Bravo Docket podcast, jumped into the fray at this point to ask about what Jen’s hiding and who she’s hiding it from. We then saw the news clips of Sharieff allegedly considering a divorce just before Jen was arrested, followed by the now infamous audio clip of Jen Shah verbally abusing Koa Johnson. Surprise (but not really), she’s even more violent off the show.
When, where, and why, did Jen Shah become the Jen Shah we see on Bravo?
Johnson then revealed that Shah last paid him in September 2020, even though he kept working for her all the way to January 2021. Shah has since accused Johnson (on this season of RHOSLC, no less!) of not producing all the dresses he promised to make her, and Lehua Vincent tried to excuse Shah’s behavior by describing some of the challenges she faced as a working-class woman of color growing up in mostly white Utah. Former high school classmate Beth Hahne then jumped into the fray to explain how they were among the very few students of color at their high school in Orem. Vincent recalled an incident when Shah tried to “clean” her way to a lighter skin tone because some classmates ridiculed her as “dirty”.
All of a sudden, the pundit panel turned to Shah’s March 30, 2021, arrest. The producers then returned us to the RHOSLC Season 2 scene where Whitney Rose helped de-mic Shah just before she fled to escape the federal law enforcement agents who were hot on her trail. Rick Patel with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security insisted that they in no way factored Bravo’s filming schedule into their plan to arrest her. Alvarez and Angotti then explained that Shah’s money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy charges are felonies that carry up to 50 years worth of prison time if the court finds her guilty.
Why is why the hell is Jen Shah on trial in New York?
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Agnieska Norman explained how Homeland Security launched “Operation Double Down” in New York in 2016 once they learned that Arash Ketabchi, whom they arrested on separate drug charges, was also revealed to be part of a larger telemarketing fraud operation. Katersky and Jacob Mitchell, one of the defense attorneys who worked on the United States v. Ketabchi case, jumped in to point out that this telemarketing operation “sold nonexistent products and services” through multiple companies. Eric Peterson, founder of the Utah Investigative Journalism Project, then explained how they lured in victims with “Work from Home!” Facebook ads, then used decoy websites to collect victims’ information, then sold victims’ information to each other so they could all take turns selling victims fraudulent “business development” products.
We then got to see footage from Charlene Foster’s deposition. She’s a 90 year-old woman who did not even own a computer at the time when these telemarketers targeted her, yet they tricked her into giving them $30,000 for internet services that she never actually needed or used. From there, Hulu gave us an audio clip of some of the telemarketers admitting to charging Charlene Foster’s credit card without her knowledge or consent. Following Ketabchi’s conviction in 2019 for his participation in this telemarketing fraud pyramid scheme, federal law enforcement discovered evidence of additional co-conspirators in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah – including one Jen Shah.
Why do these crimes rise to felony offenses, and who are the victims?
After another commercial break, Homeland Security Investigator Rick Patel contrasted Jen Shah’s luxury lifestyle with the working-class victims who fell into debt and poverty after the telemarketing fraudsters drained their bank accounts: “When you talk to a victim and see how everything they worked for has vanished, it’s just disturbing.” Then, right on cue, criminal defense and civil litigation attorney turned celebrity legal pundit Ron Richards showed up to dunk on Jen Shah for targeting such vulnerable people, many of whom were on fixed incomes.
At this point, Hulu introduced us to another victim: Penny Pucket. After the 2008-09 Great Recession hit their Kansas farm particularly hard, Pucket launched her own homemade blanket business in 2011 to bring in extra income, and she clicked on a “Work from Home!” Facebook ad that turned out to be a virtual trap door for the telemarketing fraud operation. Or as Pucket put it, “What started out as a $97 package turned out to be $9,000.” So why did she fall for it? Pucket lamented, “These people are really smooth. They know how to get you in.” Basically they promised to help Pucket grow her blanket business, but they instead swindled a grand total of over $29,000 away from her.
Jen Shah bragged about “monetizing” Penny Pucket’s business sold nothing.
As Penny Pucket explained herself, I could feel her pain: “When I found out I had been had, I was so ashamed. I thought I was a smarter person than that.” Contrary to popular opinion, it’s quite common for even smart people who consider themselves business savvy to fall into unethical business scams like multi-level marketing companies (MLM’s), dropshipping schemes, “personal development guru” networks, and even more dangerous cult operations. Pucket pointed out, “I sold zero blankets through any of the ‘marketing techniques’ they presented. I have boxes full of snuggle blankets that I give away as gifts.”
Cue that beautiful footage of Jen Shah eyeing pricey jewelry as “gifts” in front of the RHOSLC cameras. From here, Dana Wilkey walked us through her internet sleuthing: She found Shah’s LinkedIn page, which linked her to Prosper Inc., a Provo-based telemarketing company that would eventually become notorious for torturing workers and misusing New Age spirituality to scam people out of their money. Katersky then explained how Shah left Prosper in 2011 to become an executive at Thrive Learning, another sleazy telemarketing company. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) deposed Shah in 2015 for her involvement in Thrive Learning, then the FTC scored a $27 million settlement out of Thrive in 2017 after charging them with deceptive sales practices.
Who is Marie Walker?
As she assessed the Thrive Learning fiasco, Alvarez said aloud what so many of us must be thinking: “The $27 million settlement should have set an alarm bell in Jen Shah’s head. This is probably a business that she shouldn’t keep doing.” Connelly then connected all the remaining dots. Jen Shah and Stuart Smith went from merely participating in shady telemarketing operations to selling leads in the multi-state telemarketing fraud pyramid scheme, then Shah and Smith allegedly began to call victims themselves to sell them nonexistent “business development” services. Alvarez picked up the narration again to explain how Shah and Smith formed shell companies to allegedly hide their fraudulent marketing operations.
Special Agent Norman expressed some regret that law enforcement agencies haven’t done more to stop these scams and warn the public about them. Here’s where we met Marie Walker, a preschool teacher in Atlanta who wanted to start her own home-based business in August 2020. She also clicked on an online ad, and that led to a flood of sales calls, and that led to Walker losing $18,000. Walker noted, “From the beginning, they wanted to know about my finances. They asked about my credit cards, my bank accounts, and my 401(k)’s.” A LLC called Mastery Pro targeted Walker, and Mastery Pro is one of the shell companies linked to Jen Shah.
Here’s where this documentary turns very saddening and very maddening.
Walker then recounted how Mastery Pro sold her a “social media boost package”, and she recalled wiring $1,000 to a Utah-based credit union. Yet by January 2021, according to Walker, “I couldn’t reach anyone. There was no website. There was nothing.” Walker spent $18,000 on these “online business development” programs that left her high and dry, yet she’s only recovered $8,000 thus far. Walker asked on camera, “If I could talk to any of these scammers, I would ask: Would you do any of this to your mother, or to your sister?” Hulu then clarified that neither Walker’s nor Pucket’s case is part of the U.S. government’s criminal case against Jen Shah.
After Wilkey noted how Shah had to post $250,000 for bail, Richards snarkily stated, “She had no assets. She had to put up real cash because she had no real property. She didn’t own a house. She was renting!” The rest of the pundits then chimed in to assess the social media fallout of Shah’s arrest, and Lehua Vincent lamented some more seriously disturbing fallout from Shah’s arrest: how Homeland Security agents apparently held up Shah’s children at gunpoint, even though they faced no criminal charges.
She’s a hustler, baby.
Katersky matter-of-fact-ly stated, “Jen Shah continues to be in the spotlight, even when she’s not filming The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.” He then pointed out that on October 22 of this year, Jen Shah scored a paid appearance at Hustler’s New York City club. Brian Moylan jumped back in and seemingly alluded to Erika Jayne’s questionable “business decisions” amidst her own legal scandal as he snarked on Jen Shah’s increasingly desperate cash grabs to refill her legal defense fund. Angotti, Peterson, and Richards then tried their best to explain Jen Shah’s defense strategy: Shah wants the jury to believe she was merely a “lead generator”, which could lead jurors down a path to acquittal if they believe Shah had no knowledge of what the other marketers were doing with the lead lists she gave them.
Basically, Jen Shah wants to argue in court what RHOC alum Vicki Gunvalson continues to argue in the court of public opinion on her alleged lack of knowledge on what her exes Brooks Ayers’ and Steve Lodge’s respective unethical activities. But of course, Vicki has not been charged with any crimes. Jen, however, faces federal prosecutors who have collected evidence that they say reveals her involvement in this criminal operation. Back to the Hulu documentary, Wilkey hinted that Shah’s determination to go to trial may be a better move for Comcast/Bravo than for herself, as the RHOSLC producers may seek to use the trial for content for Season 3.
Will Stu-chainz send Jen Shah to prison?
Richards said that Shah’s defense strategy amounts to pointing fingers at the other defendants and asking the jury why they should believe anything these admitted liars say. Alvarez and Angotti assess that, “The government is prepared to make its case,” as they size up the feds’ case against her. Richards and Jacob Mitchell warned that the Southern District of New York (SDNY) federal prosecutors have a 97% success rate in scoring convictions. Here’s where we got a voiceover announcing Smith taking a plea deal in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence next March.
As Hulu played clips of Jen Shah heaping praise on Stuart Smith for being loyal, Ron Richards quipped, “Stuart knows where the bodies are buried. If he testifies, he will be a devastating witness against her.” Rick Patel jumped back in to contrast Shah’s reckless spending with the victims’ financial ruin, and he promised, “We’re going to try our best to get as much of their money back as possible.” Pucket has thus far recovered $16,000 of the $29,000 she lost in this telemarketing fraud pyramid scheme. Vincent still believes in her niece’s innocence, and Moylan seemed willing to hear her out. Carter closed out with the sentiment that so many of us have: guilt over feeding the “True Crime by Bravo Industrial Complex” by watching all this shit.