BECKLEY, W.Va. -- An aspiring actor admitted his guilt in an extortion plot involving a West Virginia coal executive, among others, in U.S. District Court on Thursday.
Vivek Shah, 25, of California, pleaded guilty to one count of transferring threatening communications in interstate commerce and seven counts of mailing or sending threatening communications through the mail. His trial had been set to begin Monday.
Wearing orange prison garb and shackled at the ankles, Shah, who has appeared in small film roles, told U.S. District Judge Irene Berger he sent the threatening letters to get publicity.
He was indicted last year on charges he threatened to kill relatives of Christopher Cline, owner of the coal company Foresight Reserves, if Cline refused to send $13 million to offshore bank accounts. Cline has homes in Beckley and North Palm Beach, Fla.
Shah told the judge he sent the letter to Cline's home in Florida on June 9, 2012.
"I used words that ... um ... if the money isn't sent at least one family member would be dead," Shah told the judge.
Other threatening letters were sent between June 26 and Aug. 9, 2012, including one demanding $4 million to film producer Harvey Weinstein's Connecticut home. Gary Goetzman, who owns Playtone with actor Tom Hanks, received a letter demanding $9.4 million, and Ryan Kavanaugh, founder of Relativity Media, got one demanding $11.3 million.
Dannine Avara, who inherited her father's oil fortune, received a letter in Texas that told her to send $35 million; Eric Lefkofsky, the co-founder of Groupon, $16 million, and Terry Pegula, founder of natural gas drilling company East Resources and owner of the National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres, $34 million.
"... I demanded a certain amount of money -- millions," Shah said in court. The letter stated the money would be returned with 4 percent interest.
"I expected to receive publicity out of it," Shah told the judge. "I know it put some people in fear of their life."
Shah was also charged in California, but those cases were transferred to West Virginia. He has been in the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver since August, and was returned there after Thursday's hearing.