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Suburban man accused of extortion attempt of movie mogul, millionaire

Vivek M. Shah from Chicago Actors Studio workshops

Vivek M. Shah, from the Chicago Actors Studio workshops

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Updated: September 25, 2012 10:46AM

He is an aspiring actor who claims he had small roles playing criminals on TV, but officials say a man arrested in the Northwest suburbs was involved in a series of real crimes in an attempt to extort millions of dollars from well-known wealthy victims across the country.

Vivek M. Shah, who was arrested at his family’s home in Schaumburg two weeks ago, allegedly sent letters attempting to get money from movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, an unnamed Internet millionaire from Illinois and three others — and threatened to kill their relatives if they didn’t pay.

Shah, 25, who had been living in West Hollywood, Calif., was indicted Wednesday on four counts of interfering with interstate commerce and using interstate commerce to threaten extortion.

The scheme laid out in the affidavit was ambitious and wide-reaching, involving offshore banks in Cyprus, Antigua, Malta and Mauritius.

The affidavit says investigators determined Shah had used prepaid debit cards, telephones, WiFi connections at a Starbucks near his home and the mail to target the five victims.

No one answered the door at the home in Schaumburg where Shah was taken into custody. But Shah’s attorney, Patrick Boyle, on Thursday called the charges “just allegations” but wouldn’t comment on them. He described his client — who he last saw earlier in the week at the Metropolitan Correctional Center — as a very “intelligent, polite, soft-spoken, highly educated” young man.

Shah’s Internet Movie Database profile claims he made his professional debut as “Rafi” at the Theatre Building Chicago in the premier of “A Passage to India.” It also says he had small roles in movies including “Our Family Wedding,” “Hotel Hollywood” and “The Dark Knight,” and in “Bones,” “Outsourced” and “The Strip.” It also says he appeared in a Super Bowl commercial and other ads.

The profile also lists roles as a suicide bomber in a TV documentary about Osama bin Laden and a “mad pack criminal” in a TV show in 2008 called “Animal Witness.”

Christopher Cline, owner of Foresight Reserves LP, is the only victim named in the criminal complaint (Weinstein is widely identified as a victim in published reports). An affidavit filed by a U.S. postal inspector who investigated the case affidavit states that around June 26, Shah mailed a letter from L.A. to one of Cline’s homes in North Palm Beach, Fla. with threats to kill several members of his family, unless Cline transferred $13 million to an offshore bank account.

A second threatening letter included instructions on how to wire the money to a bank in Cyprus.

In June and July, investigators determined Shah — who also uses the aliases Ray Amin and Rohan Gill — allegedly sent letters to four other victims. The letters were essentially the same as the one Cline received, the affidavit says.

The affidavit also says Google Voice records show that a week before his arrest, Shah placed four calls from his family’s home to a Los Angeles gun range. When law enforcement officers talked to employees there, they learned Shah was scheduled to begin handgun training after returning to Los Angeles earlier this month, officials said. He was arrested before he could make it back.

Those that knew Shah when he lived in the Chicago area painted different portraits of the aspiring actor.

“He was rather odd but a nice guy who kept to himself,” said Michael Cronin, Shah’s roommate at Columbia College for a year. “Obviously, I never saw anything like this coming. He didn’t have any friends I really saw, but as far as I was concerned he was fine because he was clean and didn’t steal any of my stuff.”

Cronin, a producer with Merlin Media, said Shah didn’t finish his film studies at Columbia.

But his former acting instructor with the Chicago Actors Studio, Edward D. Fogell, said Shah was full of bravado and was always “bragging” when he returned from Hollywood.“He was always talking about the big deals he was making, movies he was getting, projects he was getting financed, dropping names,” said Fogell.

Shah came to the Actors Studio in 2006 but only stayed for a year and a half — well before he finished the training, Fogell said.

When Shah told Fogell he was packing his bags to move to Los Angeles, Fogell tried telling him he needed more training.

“I told him he was wasting his time,” said Fogell.

Michael Ryden, who trained with Shah, said that Shah attended the studio’s holiday parties even after he left and would show off pictures he had taken with celebrities, including Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie. He told Ryden he met them by networking at events.

“He seemed very normal. A bit reserved. But he had big dreams. He was very motivated.”

Michael Scott Blackman, another actor friend of Shah’s, said he believes Shah was “set up” by Hollywood movers and shakers because they were jealous of his ability to rub elbows with Hollywood’s elite.

“He doesn’t have it in him,” Blackman said. “Someone set him up.”

Many neighbors of the family in Schaumburg described Shah’s parents as “nice” and “professionals.”

Neighbor Ken Carollo said investigators never said why they swarmed the house a few days ago and came out with several boxes during their all-evening probe.

Carollo, 47, said he saw a female family member escorted out by police.

“That’s crazy,” he said of the indictment against Shah.

Neighbor Beth Dolce said Shahs’ parents “must be so sad,” she said. “I’m flabbergasted. It’s very shocking.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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