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Blackmailing Actor Sentenced to 87 Months

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Court sketch done by WVNS photographer Patrick Williams Court sketch done by WVNS photographer Patrick Williams
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BECKLEY, WV -

A small-time California actor who pleaded guilty earlier this year in a West Virginia extortion plot was sentenced to 87 months in prison in U.S. District Court in Beckley Sept. 11.

Vivek Shah, 26, of West Hollywood, pleaded guilty to sending Christopher Cline, the majority owner of Foresight Reserves LP, a letter threatening to kill named relatives unless Cline wired $13 million to an offshore bank account.

The federal indictment against Shah specifically charged him with two counts of interference with commerce by threats and two counts of transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce.

In addition to his sentence, Shah was ordered to serve eight three-year terms of supervised release. U.S. District Judge Irene Berger did not fine him or impose restitution.

The criminal complaint also mentioned four other similarly worded extortion letters that were sent to others across the U.S.

Shah also faced charges in California from the scheme, but they were consolidated with the West Virginia case in the Southern District of West Virginia.

According to news reports, Shah is an actor who has had bit parts in movies and in the television series "Bones."

IMDB.com states Shah was born in Akron, Ohio. He lived in the U.S. for the first six years of his life. After that, his family moved to India. After spending 10 years in India, Shah moved back to the U.S. along with his family.

IMDB.com lists his roles as, among others, a maitre d' in the 2010 movie "A Family Wedding" and an uncredited role as "Middle Eastern bank hostage" in 2008's "The Dark Knight."

The letter Shah is accused of sending identified several of the recipient's relatives by name. The letter was followed by wiring instructions for a bank account in Cyprus, along with a second copy of the original threatening letter.

Shah was arrested Aug. 10, 2012, after an arrest warrant was issued in the Southern District of West Virginia. The criminal complaint reveals Shah sought out handgun training only days before his arrest.

Shah faced a maximum of 40 years in prison.

The FBI in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as the United States Postal Service took part in the investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said Shah has great potential.

"I believe the defendant has an unusual degree of potential to turn his life around and put this behind him," Ruby said. "He has expressed the opportunity to me to continue his education. I'm optimistic the defendant will successfully put this behind him."

Berger said she received several letters of support of Shah, especially from his family. 

"The fact that you engaged in this conduct is all the more atrocious, though, with that amount of family support that the court doesn't see very often," Berger said.

Shah's attorney Debra Kilgore said Shah is known as a polite and courteous person. 

"This is an abhorrent deviation from his character," she said, later adding. "He said he never intended to harm the victims and wanted to write letters to the victims to apologize."

Killgore said five of the seven victims accepted to receive these letters.

Shah told the court he was "truly and sincerely" sorry for his conduct.

"All the actions I took are the polar opposite of who I am," Shah said. "If I could erase it from my life, you would find me to be a good person."

Shah mentioned the fact that he volunteered at hospitals, obtained a bachelor's degree, graduated cum laude and had a very supportive family.

"You have enormous potential but unfortunately, you found yourself in this position," Berger said.

"You did not do it impulsively," Berger added, noting he spent time researching victims and their family members and also obtained fake ids, emails, fake credit card statements and set up offshore accounts. 

In a news conference after the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin noted Shah's family support.

"The court said it best that it is troubling he engaged in this kind of conduct," Goodwin said. "He created fear in seven victims."

Goodwin said the reason Shah participated in this scheme was to gain money and fame.