Actor indicted over extortion scheme
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A California man accused of trying to extort millions from several influential people, including a West Virginia coal magnate, now is facing federal charges in his home state.
Vivek Shah, 25, of West Hollywood, was indicted last week in U.S. District Court in California on seven counts of mailing threatening communications.
The indictment, filed Sept. 26 in California's Central District, lists seven victims all identified by initials and the amount of money Shah allegedly demanded.
Shah, who was arrested Aug. 10 at his father's suburban Chicago home, has been held at Southern Regional Jail in Beaver since Aug. 28.
He was indicted Aug. 21 on two counts of extortion and two counts of transmitting threatening messages with intent to extort in West Virginia's Southern District.
Investigators found information that Shah, an actor with numerous ties to the motion picture industry, threatened several individuals, including West Virginia native and Foresight Reserves owner Chris Cline.
Shah allegedly claimed he would harm the family members of those he contacted unless they paid him large sums of money. Cline is worth about $1.2 billion and is the 360th richest American, according to Forbes magazine.
Cline's letter, which arrived at Cline's North Palm Beach, Fla., home in June, contained threats to kill several members of Cline's family, many of whom still live in Beckley, if he did not transfer $13 million to an offshore bank account.
A second letter provided instructions for wiring the funds to a bank in Cyprus, along with a copy of the original extortion letter.
Authorities found information that Shah planned to take handgun training courses when he returned to the Los Angeles area on Aug. 12.
The letters sent to the victims in the California case are similar. According to court documents, the letters titled "Extortion Notice" demanded money, set a deadline, gave a warning not to notify police and the following threat:
"[Victim], if you follow the instructions, then you can take this notice lightly. If you don't, then expect at least one person dead in the next one year. It could either be [first names of close relatives], or any other close relative."
Cline was not among the seven victims listed in the California indictment.
The indictment stated victim H.W. received a letter on June 9 in Connecticut from California demanding $4 million. Victim T.P. received a letter on June 26 in Florida, also sent from California, demanding $34 million.
The Smoking Gun, a public documents website, previously identified H.W. as Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and T.P. as Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula.
Victim E.L. received a letter on July 9 in Illinois, sent from California, demanding $16 million. The same day Victim D.A. received a letter in Texas, sent from California, demanding $35 million.
The Smoking Gun named E.L. as Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky and D.A. as Dannine Avara, an oil heiress.
The identities of the fifth and sixth victims were not immediately clear Wednesday. The fifth victim identified as T.P. received a letter July 9 in Florida from California demanding $34 million.
Letters received by the sixth and seventh victims were sent days before Shah's Aug. 10 arrest at his father's Schaumburg, Ill., home. Federal agents had been monitoring the home during Shah's visit, according to court documents.
A sixth victim, G.G., received a letter in California sent from Illinois demanding $9.6 million on Aug. 9.
The seventh victim, identified as R.K. in the indictment, received a letter in California mailed from Illinois demanding $11.3 million. The Hollywood Reporter identified R.K. as Ryan Kavanaugh, a Relativity studio company executive.
Shah had uncredited roles of "Middle Eastern Bank Hostage" in the 2008 film "The Dark Knight" and "Maitre'd" in the 2010 movie "Our Family Wedding," according to his profile on the Internet Movie Database. He also had small parts on television shows "Bones" and "Outsourced."
His Facebook page, which has since been taken down, featured pictures of him at Hollywood events with several A-list celebrities.
The case against Shah in West Virginia is ongoing, but U.S. District Judge Irene Berger issued a gag order on Aug. 29. Shah was arraigned on Sept. 4 in Beckley and a trial date was set for later this month.
Berger denied Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby's Oct. 1 request for a continuance, according to the online court docket.
It was unclear if the California indictment would have any effect on the case in West Virginia.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin offered no comment on the matter. Charleston lawyer Troy Giatras, Shah's attorney, was en route to China Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at email@example.com or 304-348-4850.