W.Va. coal magnate target of extortion plot [Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.]By Ashley B. Craig, Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Aug. 23--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A California man with ties to the motion picture industry is accused of trying to extort millions from West Virginia coal magnate Chris Cline and four others by threatening to harm their families if they refused to pay him large sums of money.
A federal grand jury in Charleston handed down a four-count indictment against Vivek Shah, 25, of West Hollywood, Calif., on Wednesday. Shah was arrested Aug. 10 at the Schaumburg, Ill., home of his parents. He was set to begin handgun training two days later.
U.S. Postal Inspector Joshua Mehall began investigating June 26 after an extortion letter arrived at Cline's North Palm Beach home. Cline, who owns Foresight Reserves, splits time between homes in West Virginia and Florida and was at his Beckley home when the letter arrived, according to court documents.
It contained threats to kill several members of Cline's family, many of who still live in Beckley, if he did not transfer $13 million to an offshore bank account by June 28. Future instructions for wiring the funds would follow, the letter said.
A second letter was sent to Cline containing wiring instructions for a bank in Cyprus, along with a copy of the original extortion letter.
The letter was forwarded to Cline's attorneys in Charleston.
Forbes Magazine listed Cline as being worth about $1.5 billion in March.
Cline has been a noted player on West Virginia's political and social scene as a donor and host.
Cline, who is not frequently in the press, received attention in August 2010 when then-Gov. Joe Manchin skipped a debate for U.S. Senate candidates to attend a reception and fundraiser at his Raleigh County home.
Earlier that year, during Gator Bowl festivities in Jacksonville, Fla., Cline, an avid West Virginia University fan, parked his yacht worth about $30 million and hosted a party there.
Cline, who has given to several candidates' campaigns over the years, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's, also gave $30,000 to And For The Sake of The Kids, the political action committee led by former Massey Coal CEO Don Blankenship that helped unseat state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw.
"Chris is just very grateful to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office here in West Virginia for promptly and thoroughly investigating this matter," Cline said through his attorney Brian Glasser.
Authorities say Shah had a fake driver's license with the name "Ray Amin." That license was used to rent a mailbox at Wilshire Mailbox in West Hollywood and the name was used multiple times in "various ways in furtherance of the Scheme," court documents said.
A man believed to be Shah was seen on video surveillance recordings buying prepaid debit cards. He was also said to have called offshore banks and a mailbox rental service.
Authorities said Shah used public Wi-Fi at various Starbucks coffeehouses and was seen driving to one of the coffee shops, parking his vehicle and then using a laptop computer in the car for long periods.
Several Internet transactions in relation to the scheme were made from the Internet Protocol address of one of Shah's neighbors. Investigators said the homes were close enough that a computer in Shah's home could access his neighbor's Internet.
Authorities found out about four similar incidents in June and July where individuals received letters "substantially the same " as the one Cline received.
Among those four was movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, according to The Smoking Gun website. Weinstein is not named in the complaint.
The other four victims are described only as 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 who is the child of the late founder of an oil and gas company.
"Each of these letters contained a threat to kill named members of the recipient's family unless a large sum of money was wired to an offshore bank account," according to the complaint. "The letters were worded substantially identically except for information specific to each victim."
The letters all were mailed from Los Angeles to the victims' home states. Mehall said Shah allegedly used Click-N-Ship, a service available through the Postal Service website that allows customers to buy and print their own postage labels.
The Click-N-Ship postage was paid for using several prepaid debit cards. Store workers identified Shah as the person who purchased the cards after seeing his driver's license photo and photos from his public Facebook account.
Shah's Facebook says he is an entrepreneur and has several photos of him at star-studded events with Hollywood A-listers.
Shah played the uncredited roles of "Middle Eastern Bank Hostage" in the 2008 film "The Dark Knight" and "Maitre'd" in the 2010 film "Our Family Wedding," according to his profile on the Internet Movie Database. He also had bit parts in TV shows Bones and Outsourced.
Records showed Shah made several calls to the West Hollywood mailbox facility and to offshore banks using a Google Voice account registered to his alias Ray Amin. Records for that account show several calls to the Antigua Overseas Bank, Bank of Valletta in Malta and to the Mauritius Commercial Bank. The prepaid cards also were used to mail items to those banks, according to court records.
Police learned that Shah left the Los Angeles area and flew to Chicago where he continued to access the Google account from his parents' home.
Google Voice records showed Shah placed four calls to a gun range in Los Angeles on Aug. 6 and 7. Employees told police Shah was scheduled for training in handgun shooting when he returned to the Los Angeles area on Aug. 12.
He remains in police custody.
The indictment charges Shah with two counts of interference with commerce by threats and two counts of transmitting threats with intent to extort. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
The indictment was the result of an investigation led by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI's Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles bureaus.
Capitol Reporter Ry Rivard contributed to this report.
(c)2012 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)
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