7:43am PT by Eriq Gardner
Harvey Weinstein Extortion Suspect Arrested
West Virginia law-enforcement authorities have charged an aspiring actor with attempting to extort five rich individuals, including a movie studio executive believed to be Harvey Weinstein.
According to criminal papers lodged against Vivek Shah, an actor living in West Hollywood, the defendant sent five substantially similar letters with threats to kill unless the amount of $13 million was transferred to an offshore bank account.
One of the alleged victims is West Virginia coal magnate Christopher Cline. Other recipients of the letter are said to include a "Connecticut resident and co-founder of a film studio," "an Illinois resident and co-founder and chairman of an Internet company," "a Florida resident and founder of an oil and gas company" and "a Texas resident and the child of a late founder of another oil and gas company."
According to Shah's profile on IMDb, the 25-year-old has appeared on TV's Bones and Outsourced, as a bank hostage in The Dark Knight and had roles in small films including Our Family Wedding.
His biography says he was born in Akron, Ohio, spent a decade in India, and then moved back to the U.S. along with his family. His professional acting career is said to have started on the Chicago theatrical stage. Shah also posted images of himself hanging out with stars including Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie and Sofia Vergara.
West Virginia prosecutors report in a summary of probable cause that in June and July, law enforcement learned of the extortion letters and identified that they had been sent through a UPS service. The payment for the postage was traced back to a PayPal account that was linked to a prepaid debit card purchased slightly more than two miles away from the defendant's residence.
Law enforcement then tracked financial information to a mailbox rental on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, which traced to the defendant's residence. When West Hollywood police followed up, Shah is said to have shown a fake California driver's license in another name.
Shah was arrested Aug. 10 and charged with three counts of making threatening communications. He's now in custody.
Weinstein couldn't be reached for comment. The movie mogul has been dealing with more than one threat of late. Earlier this month, he reportedly obtained a restraining order against another man who he said threatened to shoot him.
The alleged extortion by Shah was first reported by The Smoking Gun.
The New York Post also reports that sources have identified the Internet co-founder who was extorted as Eric Lefkofsky of Groupon and that when contacted, Shah's father says the allegations are “out of character" for his son.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @eriqgardner