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Is Real Housewives of Salt Lake City even 'real'? It's a big question in Shah fraud trial

Jen Shah
Posted at 9:35 AM, Feb 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-22 13:09:58-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Proposed questions for potential jurors in the upcoming fraud trial of "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" star Jen Shah include discussion of the reality TV show and whether what is portrayed on screen is even "real."

A series of questions filed in U.S. District Court in New York ask prospective jurors their feelings on the popular show of six Utah women's friendships and feuds. On the show, Shah is portrayed as a sometimes-mercurial Park City businesswoman and the wife of an assistant football coach at the University of Utah.

In addition to standard questions about fraud and white collar crime, the voir dire questions ask if any prospective juror or their family members have watched an episode of "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" or follow fan blogs, internet documentaries or read tabloid media accounts of Shah's case.

"Are any of you fans of any of the Real Housewives shows? Would your opinion of the show and people who appear in the show influence how you view Jen Shah?" asked one set of questions.

"If you have never seen any of the Real Housewives shows, do you have preconceived ideas as to what kind of people appear on the show, and would those ideas influence how you saw the evidence in this case?" asked another section.

"Do you believe that all Housewives who appear on the franchise are rich?"

"Do you believe that what you see on the show is, in fact, real?"

"Do any of you think that what happens on reality television shows is actually real?"

Shah defense attorney Priya Chaudhry asked jurors if they would not watch any clips while the case was pending. She has separately filed a motion to block federal prosecutors from showing the jury any clips of the show as part of their case against Shah, arguing that it would be "hearsay" to allow it in.

Chaudhry noted the selective editing of reality TV shows, the creation of "storylines" for cast members of Bravo TV's "Real Housewives" franchises and the perception of wealth in each show.

"There has to be a story line and a narrative to create drama and maintain the interest of the viewers. Thus, the question arises: how fake or how real are the women and the lives portrayed on Housewives? The answer is: the women and their lives are both real and fake and it is impossible to tell where reality ends and fantasy and outright deception and fakery begins," Chaudhry wrote to the judge.

She argued that the clips shown on TV, because of the extensive and selective editing to advance certain plot lines, "make them particularly unsuitable to be admitted under the rules of evidence."

"Thus, while some of what goes on in any particular Housewives’ episode has some aspect of reality, in that Ms. Shah is playing a character called Jen Shah and not a totally fictional character who never existed, she is nonetheless playing a 'character' who is molded by the requirements of being on the RHOSLC and any statements, made in the context of playing that character on a show that has been highly curated and edited to satisfy its dramatic requirements, do not have the indicia of reliability that would allow admission into a trial under the hearsay rule or any rules of evidence. Nor should these clips be used for cross-examination as prior inconsistent statements for the same reason," Chaudhry wrote.

The government will reply to the filing before U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein makes a ruling on whether jurors should be shown clips of the show, should the case go to trial.

Shah has pleaded not guilty to fraud charges in a multi-million dollar case based out of New York City. She is among numerous defendants accused in a telemarketing scheme dating back to 2019. Federal prosecutors allege Shah and her assistant, Stuart Smith, were involved in generating "lead lists" of potential clients for business opportunities and were ultimately scammed.

"Ms. Shah’s defense is that while she worked in the telemarketing industry and worked with many of the people who are witnesses in this case, including Stuart Smith, she did not participate in the fraud," Chaurdhry wrote in a motion.

Shah is slated to face trial in March. Smith has pleaded guilty to fraud charges.