DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Crime

Man Busted In Harvey Weinstein Extortion Plot

Feds: L.A. actor threatened to kill Hollywood titan's kin

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Vivek Shah Affidavit

AUGUST 22--In an extortion scheme busted up by federal agents, a fledgling actor threatened to kill members of movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s family unless the Hollywood titan wired millions to an offshore bank account, The Smoking Gun has learned.

Weinstein was one of several business titans allegedly targeted over the past two months by Vivek Shah, a 25-year-old West Hollywood resident whose Facebook and IMDB pages are stocked with photos of him posing with stars like Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Ozzy Osbourne, Sofia Vergara, and Zach Galifianakis.

While Shah describes himself as an “entrepreneur” and film producer, his Hollywood credits appear to be limited to extra work and an Intel commercial. But he has rubbed shoulders with stars at movie premieres, several awards shows (Screen Actors Guild, ESPN, Golden Globes), and the Playboy Mansion.

Federal agents arrested Shah August 10 after he was named in a U.S. District Court complaint charging him with sending threatening interstate communications, a felony carrying a maximum 20-year prison term. He remains locked up in lieu of a detention hearing.

Shah is pictured above in a U. S. Marshals Service mug shot.

Shah was collared at his family’s home in suburban Chicago, two days before he was set to return to Los Angeles, where he was “scheduled for training in handgun shooting” at an L.A. gun range, investigators noted.

According to an affidavit sworn by Postal Inspector Joshua Mehall, Shah sent “extortion demand letters” to five wealthy individuals during June and July. “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,” Mehall stated.

The letters, mailed from Los Angeles, went to Weinstein, billionaire coal magnate Christopher Cline, and three other deep-pocketed targets, including “an Illinois resident and co-founder and chairman of an Internet company.”

While not named in the Mehall affidavit, Weinstein is described as “a Connecticut resident and co-founder of a film studio.” The 60-year-old movie producer, who lives in Westport, Connecticut, founded Miramax Films with his brother Bob. The siblings now serve as co-chairmen of The Weinstein Company, an independent film production firm.

Spokesmen for Weinstein did not respond to TSG questions about his receipt of the extortion threat, the exact details of which are not contained in court records. On August 6, Weinstein hosted President Barack Obama at a $35,800-per-person campaign fundraiser at his waterfront Westport estate.

According to Mehall’s affidavit, the threat letter sent to Cline’s Florida home demanded $13 million. Cline, majority owner of Foresight Reserves, a privately held coal mining company, is worth $1.5 billion, according to a Forbes magazine estimate.

After federal agents were informed of the Cline threat, they learned that other “extortion demand letters substantially the same as the one received by Mr. Cline” had been sent to Weinstein and the other three targets. A follow-up letter to Cline included “wiring instructions for a bank in Cyprus,” noted Mehall.

The subsequent investigation tracked online postage purchases, prepaid debit card transactions, PayPal charges, and mailbox rental records to link Shah to the extortion letters. Additionally, Mehall reported, store surveillance video from a Rite-Aid pharmacy and an L.A. supermarket (both near Shah’s Santa Monica Boulevard apartment) captured Shah purchasing three of the prepaid debit cards used in the criminal plot.  

Federal agents also linked Shah to a Google Voice number and Gmail account used “in furtherance of the scheme,” Mehall alleged. The Google account was opened using the alias “Ray Amin,” the name found on a phony California driver’s license that Shah carried.

The West Hollywood address on Shah’s fake license was used as the billing address and return address for the threat letter sent in June to Weinstein. The property--to which Shah has no connection--is a 6.6 acre estate owned by actress Helen Mirren and director Taylor Hackford.

An examination of the Google Voice number allegedly used by Shah revealed that a total of about three dozen calls were placed in June to offshore banks in Antigua, Malta, and Mauritius. Investigators concluded that the calls were made in “an effort to establish an offshore bank account for purposes of the Scheme.” (14 pages)