A 25-year-old Indian-American, who worked as a small time actor in California, has been indicted on charges of threatening to kill relatives of several prominent businessmen unless he was paid $13 million.
Vivek Shah of West Hollywood, California, was indicted by a federal grand jury in West Virginia on charges arising from a multi-million-dollar extortion attempt.
The indictment alleges that Shah sent a prominent West Virginian businessman a letter threatening to kill his relatives unless $13 million was wired to an offshore bank account, US Attorney Booth Goodwin said.
The letter identified several of the recipient's relatives by name, the indictment says.
According to the indictment, Shah later sent the victim wiring instructions for a bank account in Cyprus, along with a second copy of the original threatening letter.
Shah was arrested on August 10 after an arrest warrant was issued against him in the Southern District of West Virginia in response to a criminal complaint containing allegations related to those in the indictment.
The criminal complaint reveals Shah sought out handgun training only days before he was arrested. The indictment charges Shah with two counts of interference with commerce by threats and two counts of transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce.
He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on all counts of the indictment.
Shah was arrested in Chicago about a week ago and was staying at his father's residence in the suburb of Schaumburg just before his arrest.
An affidavit filed by a US postal inspector Joshua Mehall, who investigated the case, said Shah used prepaid debit cards, telephones, WiFi connections at a Starbucks near his home as well as the US Postal Service to send threatening communications to five wealthy individuals.
Of these five, four individuals are not named in the affidavit but are identified only as a film studio co-founder residing in Connecticut, co-founder and chairman of an internet company who lives in Illinois, a Florida-based oil and gas company founder and the son of an oil and gas company founder who lives in Texas. The fifth individual has been identified as entrepreneur Christopher Cline.
The affidavit added that the letters to the five individuals had identical content and each carried a "threat to kill named members of the recipient's families unless a large sum of money was wired to an offshore account."
A week before his arrest, Shah had also placed calls from his father's home in Illinois to a Los Angeles gun range, where Shah was scheduled to begin handgun training after returning to Los Angeles.