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Calif. man accused of extortion expected to plead guilty

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A California man accused of trying to extort several wealthy individuals, including West Virginia coal magnate Chris Cline, is expected to plead guilty Thursday in federal court.

Vivek Shah, 25, of West Hollywood, will appear Thursday morning before U.S. District Judge Irene Berger at the federal courthouse in Beckley.

Shah has been held at Southern Regional Jail in Beaver since August. He was arrested at his father's Illinois home and transferred to the facility shortly after.

Trial was set to begin May 13, after delays and Shah's multiple changes of attorney. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby filed a motion to schedule a guilty plea hearing last month and the hearing was set for Thursday.  

Shah, an actor with minor roles in such films as "The Dark Knight," and "Our Family Wedding," was indicted in West Virginia in August. He is charged with two counts of extortion and two counts of transmitting threatening communications.

A superceding indictment charging him with two counts of "acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries," and five counts each of identity theft and fraud was handed down in October.

An indictment handed down against Shah in a California federal court in October charged him with seven counts of mailing threatening communications. California transferred jurisdiction over those charges to West Virginia last month.

Shah threatened to harm family members of Foresight Reserves owner and West Virginia native Chris Cline if he did not pay him large sums of money, according to court documents obtained in early August 2012.

By late August, Berger had imposed a gag order and no further informationw as available.

Cline is worth about $1.2 billion and is the 377th richest American, according to Forbes magazine.

A letter arrived at Cline's home in North Palm Beach, Fla., in June that contained threats to kill several members of his family, many of whom still live in Beckley, if he did not transfer $13 million to an offshore bank account.

Similar letters were sent to victims in the California case.

Shah allegedly demanded millions from the seven victims in that matter, including $4 million from Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, $16 million from Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky, $35 million from oil heiress Dannine Avara and $11.3 million from Ryan Kavanaugh, a Relativity studio executive.

The letters were sent from California and Illinois, according to court documents.

A now-disabled Facebook account under Shah's name showed him at glitzy parties with A-list celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Tom Cruise.

He was born in Ohio and lived there until he was six. His family moved to India and returned 10 years later, according to an online biography.

Shah was arrested at his father's home in Schaumberg, Ill., near Chicago. His arrest came two days before he was supposed to fly back to Los Angeles, where he was scheduled to attend a handgun training course.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at or 304-348-4850.

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