"Imagine how terrifying it would be to open the mail and find a threat to kill your spouse or your children," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a statement. "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."
Berger said she could tell the letters were taken seriously based on statements she received from the victims.
"You put the victims and their families in fear of their lives," she told him.
The crime was especially disturbing, the judge said, given Shah's educational background and family support. Shah, who speaks five languages and has a bachelor's degree in business administration, is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, Berger said.
Shah apologized in court and said he had learned that "we live in a society that has rules and laws we all have to follow." His attorney, Debra Kilgore, told the judge that, with the help of prosecutors, Shah had written letters to the victims.
Shah told the judge his actions were the "complete polar opposite of who I truly am.
"I have two wonderful and supportive parents and an elder brother who deeply cares about me. If you accept the plea and sentence me today, I know in my heart my family is being sentenced, as well," Shah said, tearing up as he spoke.
Several of Shah's family members, including his mother and brother, sat behind him during the sentencing.
He was born in Akron, Ohio, and moved to India when he was five, where he attended a private school, Berger said. At age 15, his family moved to Illinois and, at 21, Shah moved to Los Angeles.
"You have enormous potential and, unfortunately, still find yourself in this position," the judge told him. "You devoted a significant amount of time and energy and thought to plan this extraordinary scheme."
Berger agreed to recommend that Shah be housed in a facility where he could further his education.
"I believe the defendant has an unusually high degree of potential to turn his life around and put this episode behind him," Ruby said. The judge agreed.
Reach Kate White at kate.wh...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.