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NEW INFO: Aspiring Actor Sentenced in W.Va. Extortion Case

By: WSAZ News Staff Email
By: WSAZ News Staff Email

UPDATE 9/11/13 @ 3:30 p.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) – An aspiring actor from Hollywood, CA has been sentenced to 7 years and 3 months in federal prison for orchestrating a multimillion-dollar extortion scheme that included West Virginia coal company executive, Christopher Cline

Federal Prosecutors say that last year, Vivek Shah, 26, threatened to kill family members of seven prominent people, including Cline, movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky, unless the individuals wired tens of millions of dollars into offshore bank accounts.

Shah was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Beckley. He pleaded guilty to the charges back in May.

Prosecutors say Shah demanded $13 million from Cline, $4 million from Weinstein, and $16 million from Lefkofsky.

"Imagine how terrifying it would be to open the mail and find a threat to kill your spouse or your children," said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.

Shah also targeted oil and gas billionaire Terry Pegula, from whom he demanded $34 million; Playtone film company co-owner Gary Goetzman, from whom he demanded $9.6 million; Ryan Kavanaugh, founder of Relativity Media, from whom Shah demanded $11.3 million; and Dannine Avara, daughter of a prominent Texas oil-industry executive, from whom Shah demanded $35 million.

Prosecutors say Shah sent letters threatening specific family members of his victims by name and used language carefully designed to persuade his targets that his threats were serious.

Shah used various means to avoid detection during the scheme by creating false identities. He fraudulently opened financial accounts in his victims' names. Shah also made purchases using prepaid debit cards that he registered under aliases.

To avoid being traced when he committed criminal acts using his computer, he sought out anonymous, public Internet hotspots; altered the address associated with the computer's network card; and routed his Internet communications through special servers that disguise users' identities.

He also created numerous accounts with the U.S. Postal Service under false names.

Shah was arrested by the FBI last August in Schaumberg, Ill.



UPDATE 5/9/13 @ 2 p.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) - A California man has pleaded guilty to trying to extort $13 million from a West Virginia coal company executive.

Aspiring actor Vivek Shah pleaded guilty Thursday before U.S. District Judge Irene Berger in Beckley.

The 25-year-old from West Hollywood was charged with threatening to kill relatives of Christopher Cline, owner of Foresight Reserves, if Cline refused to pay up.

Shah also targeted others who weren't named until Thursday. They are film producer Harvey Weinstein, Playtone film company co-owner Gary Goetzman, Relativity Media founder Ryan Kavanaugh; oil heiress Dannine Avara, Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky, and Terry Pegula, founder of natural gas drilling company East Resources and owner of the National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres.

Berger had sealed all records in the case and issued a gag order to all involved.



UPDATE 5/9/13
BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) -- A California man who allegedly tried to extort $13 million from a West Virginia coal company executive is headed to court.

Aspiring actor Vivek Shah is scheduled to appear Thursday for a plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Irene Berger in Beckley.

The 25-year-old from West Hollywood is charged with threatening to kill relatives of Christopher Cline, owner of Foresight Reserves, if Cline refused to pay up.

Shah also allegedly targeted four other wealthy but unnamed victims, including a film studio co-founder from Connecticut, oil and gas millionaires in Texas and Florida, and an Internet company founder of an internet company in Chicago.

Federal prosecutors won't identify those victims, and Berger has sealed court filings that would offer other details. She's also issued a gag order on the attorneys.



UPDATE 4/22/13 @ 9:20 a.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) -- A California man who allegedly tried to extort $13 million from a West Virginia coal executive is now expected to enter a plea.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger has scheduled a May 9 hearing in Beckley for aspiring actor Vivek Shah. He had been set to stand trial May 13.

All court filings in the case have been sealed. Shah has gone through several attorneys since he was arrested last year, and a motion to postpone his trial was recently denied.

The 25-year-old from West Hollywood was charged with threatening to kill relatives of Christopher Cline, owner of Foresight Reserves coal company, if Cline refused to pay the $13 million.

Prosecutors say Shah targeted four other wealthy victims from Connecticut, Illinois, Texas and Florida, but they haven't identified them.



UPDATE 10/23/12 @ 4:05 p.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) -- The trial of a California man accused of trying to extort $13 million from a West Virginia coal executive has been delayed.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger signed an order Tuesday postponing the trial of West Hollywood resident Vivek Shah until Jan. 7, 2013. Shah's attorney requested the delay, but no details are available because all court records are sealed.

The 25-year-old aspiring actor was indicted in August on charges he threatened to kill relatives of Foresight Reserves owner Christopher Cline if Cline refused to pay him.

Cline has homes in Beckley and North Palm Beach, Fla.

Shah allegedly targeted four other wealthy but unnamed victims, including a film studio co-founder from Connecticut, two oil and gas millionaires in Texas and Florida, and an internet company founder from Chicago.



UPDATE 8/22/12 @ 10:30 a.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) -- A California man accused of trying to extort $13 million from a West Virginia coal executive is being arraigned in Beckley.

West Hollywood resident Vivek Shah is set to appear Tuesday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort.

Shah was indicted last month on charges he threatened to kill relatives of Foresight Reserves owner Christopher Cline if Cline didn't pay up.

Court documents say Shah targeted four other wealthy but unnamed victims, including a film studio co-founder from Connecticut, two oil and gas millionaires in Texas and Florida, and the founder of an internet company in Chicago.

Federal prosecutors won't identify those victims.

Defense attorney Troy Giatras says Shah is a 25-year-old aspiring actor.



ORIGINAL STORY 8/22/12
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A federal grand jury in Charleston has indicted a man from Hollywood, Calif., in an alleged $13 million dollar extortion attempt.

The indictment alleges that Vivek Shah, 25, sent a prominent West Virginian a letter threatening to kill his relatives if he didn’t pay up. The money was supposed to be wired to an offshore bank account.

Investigators say Shah targeted five wealthy individuals altogether, but the affidavit names only Christopher Cline of Beckley W.Va. who owns Foresight Reserves.

The indictment charges Shah with two counts of interference with commerce by threats and two counts of transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce. Shah was arrested earlier this month..

An affidavit by a U.S. Postal Inspector who investigated the case says Shah also uses the aliases Ray Amin and Rohan Gill, and has also lived in Schaumburg, Ill.

If convicted on all counts, Shah faces up to 40 years in prison.


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