UPDATED 08/24/12 5:42 a.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (CBS)— If he was looking to become a household name, then Vivek Shah is on his way.
The aspiring actor is making headlines for allegedly trying to extort $13 million from four wealthy men — among them Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer whose blockbusters include the Oscar-winning movie, “The King’s Speech” — through threatening letters.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports
A grand jury in Charleston this week charged Vivek M. Shah, who lives in West Hollywood outside Los Angeles, with four counts of interfering with interstate commerce and using interstate commerce to threaten extortion. Though the indictment was handed up Wednesday, court records show Shah was arrested in Schaumburg on Aug. 10.
Shah recently appeared before a U.S. Magistrate judge. He waived extradition and has since been transported, in federal custody, to West Virginia, where he will stand trial.
Shah, 25, has appeared in small roles in a handful of television shows and movies since 2006, according to the Internet Movie Database. Shah’s resume also includes studying theater at Columbia College, The Chicago Actors Studio and The Second City Training Center. CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker visited each of the places, but no one seemed to remember him.
An affidavit filed by a U.S. postal inspector who investigated the case says Shah also uses the aliases Ray Amin and Rohan Gill, and was staying at his father’s home in Schaumburg, just before his arrest.
The scheme laid out in the affidavit was ambitious and wide-reaching, involving offshore banks in Cyprus, Antigua, Malta and Mauritius.
Signed by inspector Joshua Mehall, the affidavit says investigators found that Shah used prepaid debit cards, telephones, WiFi connections at a Starbucks near his home and the U.S. Postal Service to target five wealthy individuals in all.
Four are not named in the affidavit but are identified as: a film studio co-founder who lives in Connecticut (believed to be Weinstein); the co-founder and chairman of a Chicago-based internet company who lives in Illinois; an oil and gas company founder who lives in Florida; and the son of an oil and gas company founder who lives in Texas.
Only Christopher Cline, owner of Foresight Reserves LP, is named in the documents. Cline divides his time between homes in Beckley, W.Va., and North Palm Beach, Fla.
Each letter to the victims was virtually identical, the affidavit says, and each contained threats to kill named members of the victims’ families unless the money was wired to an offshore account. Shah used different recipient banks for each victim.
An employee of Cline’s opened the letter sent to his Florida home on June 26, then sent it to Cline’s attorneys in Charleston. A second letter later provided instructions for wiring the money to a Cyprus bank account.
Federal prosecutors in West Virginia’s Southern District say they have jurisdiction over the case because that’s where Cline and his family live.
The affidavit also says Google Voice records show that a week before his arrest, Shah placed four calls from his father’s home in Schaumburg 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 on an Aug. 12 flight. He was arrested before he could make it.
If convicted, Shah could face up to 40 years in prison.
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