Vivek Shah took acting classes in Chicago, but from the start his mind was on
the big time in Los Angeles. After a year and a half of studying at the
Chicago Actors Studio, he made his move, and by the account he gave one of his
former teachers, he was doing well.
"He would come back all the time bragging how he turned himself into a producer," said Edward Dennis Fogell, artistic director of the actors studio. "He would come by and brag about having this actor and that actor on board for a project, getting money here or there."
But Shah's Hollywood story took a startling turn this month when he was arrested at his father's Schaumburg home on charges that he tried to extort famed movie producer Harvey Weinstein, among others.
Shah, 25, is in federal custody. His attorney, Patrick E. Boyle, said the case will be heard in West Virginia, the home state of one of Shah's alleged victims.
According to court documents, Shah sent a letter in June to Christopher Cline, a part-time West Virginia resident and owner of the coal company Foresight Reserves LP. The letter stated that several members of Cline's family would be killed unless Cline sent $13 million to an offshore bank account, authorities allege.
The documents say similar letters were sent to other people, including a film studio founder who sources identified as Weinstein. Others included the founder of an oil and gas company, the child of another energy company founder and a person authorities called "an Illinois resident and co-founder and chairman of an Internet company."
Investigators linked Shah to calls made to a mailbox rental business and offshore banks and obtained video recordings of him buying prepaid debit cards used in the scheme, the documents say.
After authorities learned that Shah allegedly planned to take shooting lessons at a Los Angeles gun range, they arrested him Aug. 10 while he was visiting his father.
No one answered the door at the Schaumburg home Thursday. Reached by phone, one of Shah's family members declined to comment.
Boyle said he had not seen the prosecutors' evidence and could not comment about the case. But he said of Shah: "He's a very polite, soft-spoken young man, well-educated, and he has found himself in a very difficult situation."
Fogell, Shah's former acting teacher, remembered Shah as highly ambitious -- the young man went to Los Angeles prematurely, Fogell believed, having never advanced beyond the beginners class -- and highly opinionated, preferring to argue rather than accept criticism.
Despite his inexperience, Shah had a flair for comedy, Fogell said. Shah's time in Los Angeles brought him a few minor roles, according to his page at IMDb.com, including, most recently, a part in the TV series "Bones."
Fogell said he last saw Shah about a month ago, and as usual the talk turned to Hollywood deal-making. When he heard about the allegations facing his former pupil, Fogell said he and others in Chicago's acting circles were stunned.
"It kind of blows all our minds," he said.
If convicted of the charges against him, Shah could receive up to 40 years in prison.
The Los Angeles Times contributed.
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