An actor named Vivek Shah who is accused of trying to carry out a multi-million dollar extortion plot against several prominent people, including a man believed to be famous producer Harvey Weinstein, has been indicted and could be sent to prison for 40 years.
The 25-year-old Ohio native, who once appeared in an episode of the FOX series "Bones" and lives in West Hollywood, California, has not commented. Federal agents arrested him on August 10 following an FBI investigation. On Tuesday, a federal grand jury in West Virginia, where one of the alleged targets lives, indicted Shah for allegedly making a death threat against the man as part of "a multi-million dollar extortion attempt."
The U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement on Wednesday that he was charged with two counts of interference with commerce by threats and two counts of transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce. If convicted of all charges, Shah faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
The office also says that a criminal complaint states that "Shah sought out handgun training only days before he was arrested." Shah is being held without bail in West Virginia.
Weinstein, who won an Oscar for co-producing the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow movie "Shakespeare in Love," in not named in the indictment but a person who fits his description is decribed as one of the alleged targets in an affidavit of complaint that called for Shah's arrest. The Wall Street Journal says the person in question is Weinstein, citing a person familiar with the investigation. The producer's reps had no immediate comment.
The indictment was filed at a federal court in Illinois, where Shah's father lives and where the actor is suspected to have resided prior to his arrest.
It says Shah mailed the coal company owner a letter saying that if he did not wire him $13 million by June 28, he could expected as least one person from a list of names, which included members of his family, to "be dead in the next year." Shah allegedly later sent the person wiring instructions and the name of a bank in Cyprus.
In an affidavit obtained by OnTheRedCarpet.com and filed at a federal court in Illinois, where Shah's father lives and where he recently resided, a U.S. postal inspector named Joshua Mehall says that Shah should be arrested because on June 26, "with the intent to extort from a person a sum of money," he "did knowingly transmit in interstate commerce a communication containing a threat to injure the person of another."
The affidavit describes Shah's first alleged extortion attempt against the coal company owner and also says that in June and July 2012, law enforcement learned of "four other extortion demand letters substantially the same." One of the alleged targets was described as "a Connecticut resident and co-founder of a film studio."
Weinstein, a 60-year-old producer and member of Hollywood's elite, co-founded the film studio Miramax with his brother Bob. The two now head their own production firm, The Weinstein Company. Earlier this month, Weinstein hosted a fundraiser for President Barack Obama at his home in Westport, Connecticut.
The other letters, the affidavit says, were sent to an internet company co-founder and chairman from Illinois, an oil and gas company founder from Florida and a Texas resident, who is the child of a late founder of another oil and gas company.
"Each of these letters contained a threat to kill named members of the recipient's family unless a large sum of money was wired to an offshore bank account," it says.
The affidavit adds that says Shah used the fake names "Ray Amin" and "Rohan Gill," a phony driver's license, prepaid debit cards, rented mailboxes and public wireless internet officered at Starbucks cafes during the suspected extortion scheme. The affidavit also says Shah used a Google Voice phone number to place calls to banks in Mauritius, the Caribbean island of Antiguia and Malta.
It also cites airlines records that showed Shah flew from the Los Angeles area to Chicago on August 1 and accessed his Google email account from his father's home in Illinois. Law enforcement officials observed Shah entering and exiting the residence.
The affidavit also states that on August 6 and 7, Shah called a Los Angeles gun range four times. Law enforcement officials then learned from employees at the business that Shah was scheduled to undergo handgun shooting training after he returned to the city. It says he had a return ticket for August 12.
Shah's screen credits are slim and he appears to be a professional extra. He had a small role as a museum docent trainee on the FOX show "Bones" in an episode that aired in January.
On his iMDB screen credits page, he is listed as playing an uncredited role of a "Middle Eastern Bank Hostage" in the 2008 Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" but his face is not shown in the scene in question, which takes place at the start of the movie and features several extras.
Other listed credits include that of a "suicide bomber" in the 2006 National Geographic documentary "Triple Cross: Bin Laden's Spy in America," and a "gentleman" in the short-lived 2010 NBC sitcom "Outsourced."
Shah has attended Hollywood events and has posted photos of himself posing with the likes of Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Zach Galifianakis on his Facebook page.
Shah says on his iMDB page that he lived in the United States until age 6, after which he and his family moved to India for 10 years. They then returned to the United States. He says he studied acting at the Chicago Actors Studio and also took improv classes at the Second City sketch comedy club in the city in Illinois before he moved to Los Angeles.
Weinstein, whose name is so well-known in Hollywood that he received his own parody character on the HBO show "Entourage" (played by Maury Chaykin), faced death threats from another source earlier this year. In mid-August, a Los Angeles court granted Weinstein and singer Sheryl Crow a permanent restraining order against a man believed to be homeless who has since late spring published on his Facebook page a slew of expletive-filled posts, including a death threat, against the two. He was not charged with a crime.