Jen Shah, the star of Bravo's The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City who was arrested last year on fraud and money laundering charges, pleaded guilty in federal court on Monday.
Shah switched her plea from not guilty in a hearing at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.
Her trial had been set to begin on July 18.
"Jennifer Shah was a key participant in a nationwide scheme that targeted elderly, vulnerable victims," Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. "These victims were sold false promises of financial security but instead Shah and her co-conspirators defrauded them out of their savings and left them with nothing to show for it."
Shah and her assistant Stuart Smith were arrested in March 2021 and charged with scamming hundreds of people, including many individuals over 55, out of money via a fraudulent telemarketing scheme that ran for almost a decade.
"Shah and Smith flaunted their lavish lifestyle to the public as a symbol of their ‘success,'" Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh said at the time of their arrest. "In reality, they allegedly built their opulent lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people."
Federal prosecutors said the pair generated a list of susceptible people or "leads" whose personal information could be passed on to other fraudsters in exchange for a cut of the profits.
Many victims were sold tax preparation software or website design services, despite being older individuals who did not own a computer.
Both were initially charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing through which they victimized 10 or more persons over the age of 55. The maximum possible sentence for both charges combined was 50 years in prison.
Shah pleaded guilty on Monday only to the wire fraud count in exchange for prosecutors dropping the money laundering case.
Under the plea deal, prosecutors will ask the judge to impose a sentence between 11 and 14 years in prison, as well as a $9.5 million restitution sum — although the judge is free to impose a sentence at his own discretion.
She is set to be sentenced on Nov. 28.
Smith had already changed his plea to guilty in November.
But Shah's change of plea comes as something of a surprise; as recently as last week, her attorneys had been submitting motions to the judge on her behalf.
In one July 6 letter, Shah attorney Priya Chaudhry argued that a government expert witness on money laundering should not be permitted to testify and that prosecutors should be barred from referring to the defrauded individuals as "victims."
The guilty plea may also come as something of a shock to Shah's associates on The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.
Just on Sunday, costar Meredith Marks uploaded a story to her Instagram profile in which she appeared to defend Shah.
"For those of you who may not know this: I live in the United States of America," Marks wrote. "In the US, one has a right to a trial and presumed innocent until proven guilty."