How the ‘Real Housewives’ Franchise Grew to become a Hotbed of Crime

How the ‘Real Housewives’ Franchise Became a Hotbed of Crime

This week, actuality TV followers internationally set free a collective gasp when Jen Shah, star of The Actual Housewives of Salt Lake Metropolis, was charged with fraud over allegations involving “hundreds of victims” and hundreds of thousands of {dollars}.

As The Day by day Beast’s Kevin Fallon wrote, “The charges allege that, since 2012, she and Smith had been running a telemarketing scheme aimed at defrauding people, explicitly those over age of 55, by selling nonexistent business opportunities. They would sell those ‘lead lists’ of easy targets to others to scam, taking a share of the profits. The victims believed they were buying services including tax preparation, coaching, and website design, even though, according to the indictment, ‘many Victims were elderly and did not own a computer.’”

Shah’s arrest on Tuesday occurred as forged members have been busy filming the second season of the Bravo actuality present, which debuted final yr. It’s been reported that, as cameras rolled, police confirmed as much as arrest 47-year-old Shah, who had already left the scene. When Shah was finally discovered, she and her assistant (Stuart Smith, 43), have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and cash laundering. The multi-million-dollar fraud accusations may lead to a possible sentence of 30 years in jail. Shah pleaded not responsible to each costs on Friday and her bail was set at $1 million.

A scandal of this scale despatched shockwaves by the Housewives fandom. On social media, stan accounts reacted to the information, dissecting each element and sourcing new data like investigative reporters. Shah’s digital arraignment listening to, which needed to be rescheduled due to technical difficulties after lots of of individuals tried to hitch the decision, was live-tweeted. As surprising components of the story saved rising, the meme machine sprung into motion, too. Awkward clips resurfaced of Shah trying uncomfortable as Andy Cohen, the present’s government producer and reunion host, probed her on how she obtained so wealthy (or so it appeared, however we’ll get to that later).

Shah is much from the one Actual Housewives forged member to run into authorized troubles. In reality, there’s barely one among Bravo’s franchises, which comply with the lives of rich girls in locations reminiscent of New York Metropolis, Beverly Hills, Orange County, Potomac, and Atlanta, that hasn’t been hit by allegations of crime.

The place to start? Let’s begin with Tom Girardi. The estranged husband of Actual Housewives of Beverly Hills forged member Erika Girardi (often known as Erika Jayne) was accused of misappropriating hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in funds as a consequence of purchasers, in addition to dishonesty and different questionable habits all through his once-well-respected authorized profession. It has been alleged that Tom—the lawyer who partly impressed the movie Erin Brockovich—now owes greater than $56 million to former purchasers, collectors, and lenders. Erika—whose memorable on-screen mantras embrace “being broke sucks and being rich is a lot better!” and “I’m an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, and cash”—was accused of embezzling $2 million from aircraft crash victims alongside her husband. She strongly denies any wrongdoing. The present’s upcoming 11th season, which she stars in, will undoubtedly highlight her aspect of the story.

A number of of Girardi’s co-stars have additionally run into authorized difficulties, principally to do with cash. Dorit Kemsley and her husband Paul (“PK”) Kemsley lately settled a reported $1.2 million lawsuit filed in opposition to them by her former enterprise accomplice in her beachwear firm. The couple denied they have been at fault however have been ordered to pay practically $30,000 to the plaintiffs. Lisa Vanderpump and her husband Ken Todd have been hit with a number of lawsuits regarding working situations and unpaid wages within the Los Angeles eating places they personal, together with most lately a $100,000 lawsuit for unpaid produce in February 2021. They’ve additionally denied wrongdoing and mentioned they’ll pay any cash they owe. Former forged member Taylor Armstrong was compelled to promote her marriage ceremony ring on eBay after being sued for $1.5 million owed by her husband Russell Armstrong, who took his personal life in 2011.

Outdoors of the scandal-hit 90210, essentially the most infamous incident within the alleged “Housewives crime wave” went down in its New Jersey franchise. Teresa Giudice, the longest-serving forged member on The Actual Housewives of New Jersey, was jailed for mail, wire, and chapter fraud alongside her husband Joe Giudice. In 2015, she was launched after serving 11 months of a 15-month sentence. Joe was sentenced to 41 months and was finally deported by ICE to Italy, the place he now lives, as he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.

So what’s driving this development? In any case, why would anybody go on actuality TV in the event that they’ve obtained skeletons of their closet?

Firstly—and this might sound painfully apparent—it’s vital to keep in mind that wealthy individuals commit crime. Our concept of what the “stereotypical criminal” seems like may not embrace a mansion, and fraud may’ve been neatly rebranded as “white-collar crime,” however these crimes aren’t victimless or unusual. When the previous president of the US is a actuality star who was elected after establishing a faux college and spent his presidency brazenly pouring taxpayer funds into his personal properties, it’s hardly stunning that actuality stars additional down the meals chain just like the Giudices (who’re associates and supporters of Trump) are breaking the principles too.

Rich individuals exploiting the corrupt techniques that allow them to commit crimes like tax fraud crosses partisan traces, after all. And this sample massively predates Trump’s presidency and the fact TV phenomenon. Some may argue that the alleged “Housewives crime wave” is right down to actuality TV attracting people who find themselves risk-takers, useless, or just airheads who need a luxurious life-style however don’t need to work for it. These stereotypes could be true, to various levels, but it surely’s extra seemingly that it’s only a snapshot of the kind of factor that goes on on a regular basis, and we’re solely noticing as a result of they’re on TV.

Some might argue that the alleged “Housewives crime wave” is right down to actuality TV attracting people who find themselves risk-takers, useless, or just airheads who need a luxurious life-style however don’t need to work for it.

This makes it all of the extra vital that we maintain watching. On Housewives, we’re seeing actuality TV—a comparatively new medium—mirror a really primary reality of how America works. It’s giving viewers a masterclass within the methods rich individuals bend the principles then use their sources to protect themselves from penalties.

So how did we get right here? It feels unattainable to separate the existence of a actuality TV juggernaut like Housewives, which follows the lives of wealthy individuals, from a wider tradition that celebrates wealth and materialism. An iconic ‘tagline’ from Nene Leakes, a veteran of the Atlanta franchise, sums this up: “I don’t keep up with the Joneses—I am the Joneses.” Cash is paraded on the present, from $60,000 youngsters’ birthday events to “million-dollar weddings” and a now-infamous pair of (hideous) $25,000 sun shades. It’s additionally widespread for forged members to probe one another about their funds. Whether or not Housewives and their husbands are as wealthy, or squeaky clear, as they appear is an everyday storyline. (The IRS is virtually a recurring character within the Potomac franchise due to its forged’s messy tax affairs).

After Shah’s arrest, it was reported (and later confirmed by her legal professional) that her palatial Utah house, nicknamed the “Shah Chalet,” is actually rented. Though this has no bearing on whether or not she’s responsible of the crimes she stands accused of, renting a house—one thing that hundreds of thousands of individuals do—is commonly characterised as a supply of disgrace within the Housewives world. The present’s government producer Andy Cohen, who straight-up asks the wives about whether or not they personal their houses throughout reunion episodes, mentioned in 2019: “I don’t understand the concept of renting at all. It’s just throwing money away. Especially a huge home. I don’t get it.”

However absolutely it’s straightforward to see why somebody who aspires to run in the identical social circles because the Actual Housewives may lease a house, a automotive, or anything? Alongside a picture of wealth comes connections and entry to alternatives for fame and cash. The broader tradition they dwell in and their fast environment encourage them to faux it till they make it—typically, as we’re seeing, with dire penalties.

It’s additionally vital to level out that so-called “white collar crime” represents only one strand of the authorized dramas Actual Housewives discover themselves embroiled in. The final season of The Actual Housewives of Potomac, for instance, storylined a bodily altercation between two forged members which ended up in court docket. Earlier seasons of the present lifted the lid on sexual misconduct costs made in opposition to Michael Darby, husband of forged member Ashley Darby, by varied crew members, which have been finally dropped. Different Housewives, previous and current, have been accused of assault and smashing up their husband’s automotive with a baseball bat. A number of husbands of the wives have additionally been accused of bodily abuse.

Bravo leans into these dramas, typically exhibiting followers the fall-out from highly-publicized incidents that occur off-camera. On season 10 of The Actual Housewives of New York Metropolis, we noticed the aftermath of Luann de Lesseps (often called “Countess Luann”) being charged with 4 felonies regarding a drunken arrest in Florida on Christmas Eve in 2017. Different actuality stars from the New York franchise who’ve mugshots embrace socialite Tinsley Mortimer, who was arrested for trespassing in 2016 (although costs have been finally dropped), and Sonja Morgan, who was arrested for drunk driving in 2010.

Bravo leans into these dramas, often showing fans the fall-out from highly-publicized incidents that happen off-camera.

Substance misuse and dependancy points are a standard theme in Housewives arrests. The record of Housewives, previous and current, who’ve been handed DUIs is lengthy, from Brandi Glanville (Beverly Hills) to Gina Kirschenheiter (Orange County). Kim Richards, whose relapse and restoration from alcoholism was storylined on the Beverly Hills franchise, was arrested for public intoxication after which shoplifting in 2015.

Alcohol points are explored on the present with combined outcomes. It’s regular to see the identical forged members seem drunk on digital camera, or to look at their friends debate whether or not they’re an alcoholic behind their again and accuse them of getting “a problem” to their face. Fan favourite Dorinda Medley was reportedly let go from The Actual Housewives of New York Metropolis final yr for being a “mean drunk,” whereas her beginner co-star Leah McSweeney and OG housewife de Lesseps returned to sobriety after watching the present’s boozy (and darkish) 12th season. Actual Housewives of Orange County star and recovering addict Braunwyn Windham-Burke lately advised The Day by day Beast that the present helped her keep sober. But it surely nonetheless appears honest to query whether or not enough assist exists for actuality stars who’re usually intoxicated on digital camera, and ask why heavy ingesting is such a giant a part of Housewives as a franchise—even after so many alcohol-related arrests.

Relating to substance-related authorized points on Housewives, we once more see how rich individuals—who’ve entry to prime attorneys—use their sources to protect themselves from the punishments that others are subjected to. De Lesseps, for instance, was ordered to finish group service, a yr of probation, and attend conferences after accepting a plea deal of three misdemeanors (resisting an officer with violence, trespass, and disorderly intoxication). Whereas it’s completely reputable to argue nobody ought to be imprisoned for victimless substance-related crimes—each morally and virtually—America has a historical past and present actuality of imprisoning individuals of colour, significantly Black People, for minor offenses. Housewives highlights that the advantages of any tiny shift away from a carceral strategy to substance-related crime are principally loved by wealthy white individuals.

It’s within the DNA of the fact TV beast to feed off the turbulent habits of its stars—particularly, within the case of Actual Housewives, once they break the regulation. Time and time once more, Bravo’s flagship franchise reveals us a sample of downfall, adopted by a story arc of repentance and resurgence. This makes for addictive TV and might help stars make large cash, too. Teresa Giudice—who wins the prize for being Bravo’s most bankable lawbreaker—not solely filmed the lead-up and aftermath of her time in jail, however she penned a guide about her time in custody and her household filmed Teresa Checks In, a spin-off about her time behind bars. Her per-season wage reportedly skyrocketed to over $1 million when she rejoined the present after being launched. De Lesseps equally bounced again from her arrest with a profitable profession in cabaret. “The Countess”’ poked enjoyable at her brushes with the regulation on stage to packed audiences throughout the nation and her tagline on the present the next season was: “I plead guilty… to being fabulous!” (Profitable comebacks like this are, after all, much less accessible to individuals with out sources and a platform.)

Within the aftermath of Shah’s arrest, an outdated tweet got here again to hang-out her. “Teresa walked, so I could run,” she joked, referencing the truth that each girls are identified for dropping their mood and a particular incident the place a rage-filled Giudice flipped a desk. Now, charged with fraud, it’s very potential that she may.

So will a guide deal and a spin-off present be in Shah’s future? The jury remains to be out on that one (so to talk). What’s clear, although, is that followers can’t get sufficient of Housewives authorized scandals. The anticipation for the following seasons of Beverly Hills and Salt Lake Metropolis couldn’t be increased, largely as a result of followers are salivating to listen to extra about what’s occurred. Within the meantime, there’s an limitless stream of memes, Twitter threads, and YouTube movies explaining the most recent authorized developments.

What’s clear, though, is that fans cannot get enough of Housewives legal scandals.

It looks like what we’re seeing within the Housewives world is the same celebration of “scammer culture,” and “bad” girls particularly, that’s pervaded TV and movie for a while, from Gone Woman to Hustlers and most lately Netflix’s The One. There’s loads of current examples of wealthy girls who’ve scammed their manner into notoriety in up to date tradition, such because the trial of New York socialite scammer “Anna Delvey” and the college-admissions scandal that includes Felicity Huffman from Determined Housewives (the drama that partly impressed Actual Housewives). HBO documentary The Inventor adopted Elizabeth Holmes and her fraudulent multi-billion greenback Silicon Valley well being rip-off (Amanda Seyfried simply signed on to play her in an upcoming film).

The concentrate on scammer girls is curious, provided that wealthy males, just like the bros of huge tech and the lads who created Fyre Competition, are significantly better positioned to rip-off us. This might have roots in misogyny, or homosexual tradition’s much-repeated (and pretty problematic) sample of making icons out of tragic, reckless girls. It does appear to be, inside the scammer period, there’s an try to rejoice girls who reject the societal norms that dictate they need to be “well behaved” and quiet, or who use scamming as a manner of “getting even” with a system that suppresses them.

However as Jia Tolentino wrote in her bestselling guide Trick Mirror, removed from being subversive, scamming is “the quintessential American ethos.” To develop up in America, she argues, is to study that “one of the best bids a person can make for financial safety in America is to get really good at exploiting other people.”

Earlier than COVID-19 hit and accusations in opposition to her estranged husband surfaced, Erika Jayne was starring as Roxie Hart in Chicago on Broadway. Within the musical, the 2 protagonists, Roxie and Velma, make use of a rich lawyer to assist them get away with murders. They’re finally rewarded with 15 minutes of fame and their very own all-singing, all-dancing double act. The present was written nearly 50 years in the past and is about within the 1920s, but it surely’s a quintessentially American scammer story that feels related to what we’re seeing play out on Actual Housewives immediately (minus the murders, fortunately).

Authorized troubles don’t routinely make somebody a nasty particular person, or unworthy of redemption, whether or not they’re on TV or not. To viewers, Bravo’s glamorous actuality stars may really feel far faraway from “normal life,” significantly once they’re touring the world, serving us high-fashion seems, or getting arrested. However the accelerated tempo at which they rise, then use their cash and standing to protect themselves from the worst penalties once they fall—or higher nonetheless, to assist them bounce again even stronger—is an correct reflection of how the elite get to dwell. Simply have a look at the person who simply left the White Home.

Jen Shah in all probability gained’t be disappearing anytime quickly. And it’s unlikely that she’ll be the final Actual Housewife to be on the middle of a storm like this. As a result of the place scandal goes, a hungry viewers follows—and there’s nothing fairly as American as feeding the beast.

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