Calif. man sentenced in W.Va. extortion scheme

September 12, 2013

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — A California man was sentenced Wednesday to seven years and three months in federal prison for trying to extort tens of millions of dollars from a West Virginia coal company executive and others.

The prison term for aspiring actor Vivek Shah of West Hollywood, Calif., was agreed upon in his plea deal.

Shah, 25, pleaded guilty in May to one count of transferring threatening communications in interstate commerce and seven counts of mailing or sending threatening communications through the mail.

Shah was charged with threatening to kill relatives of Foresight Reserves owner Christopher Cline if he refused to pay $13 million into offshore bank accounts.

Federal prosecutors said other families targeted and the amounts were those of oil heiress Dannine Avara, $35 million; Terry Pegula, founder of natural gas drilling company East Resources and owner of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, $34 million; Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky, $16 million; Relativity Media founder Ryan Kavanaugh, $11.3 million; Gary Goetzman, who owns the Playtone film company with actor Tom Hanks, $9.6 million; and film producer Harvey Weinstein, $4 million.

“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’ sake, that we were able to put a stop to it so quickly.”

Shah also was charged in California, but those cases were consolidated with the West Virginia case.