Home Pittsburgh Press Releases 2013 California Man Sentenced to More Than Seven Years in $122 Million Extortion Plot

California Man Sentenced to More Than Seven Years in $122 Million Extortion Plot
Vivek Shah Threatened to Kill Family Members of Seven Wealthy Extortion Targets

U.S. Attorney’s Office September 11, 2013
  • Southern District of West Virginia (304) 345-2200

BECKLEY, WV—U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin today announced that Vivek Shah, 26, of West Hollywood, California, was sentenced to seven years and three months in federal prison for orchestrating a multi-million-dollar extortion scheme. Last year, Shah threatened to kill family members of seven prominent victims, including movie producer Harvey Weinstein, Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky, and coal executive Chris Cline, unless his targets wired tens of millions of dollars into offshore bank accounts.

"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. "This defendant carried out a carefully planned scheme designed to frighten his victims out of more than $120 million. It was an extraordinarily brazen crime, and I'm pleased, for the victims' sakes, that we were able to put a stop to it so quickly."

Shah’s other victims included 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.

Shah demanded $4 million from Weinstein, $16 million from Lefkofsky, and $13 million from Cline. His demands totaled more than $122 million.

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 FBI agents on August 10, 2012, in Schaumberg, Ill.

This investigation was conducted jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Chicago Divisions and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Counsel to the United States Attorney Steve Ruby handled the prosecution.