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California actor pleads guilty to charges in WV extortion plot

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A California actor has pleaded guilty to transmitting threatening communication in connection to a West Virginia extortion plot.

Federal prosecutors allege Vivek Shah, 25, of West Hollywood, sent Christopher Cline, the majority owner of Foresight Reserves LP, a letter threatening to kill named relatives unless he wired $13 million to an offshore bank account.

Shah appeared in federal court in Beckley May 9, where he pleaded guilty to one count of transmitting threatening communication as listed in the superseding indictment.

When U.S. District Judge Irene Berger asked Shah if his letter contained a threat, Shah answered that it did, saying that if Cline didn't wire money to him, he could "expect one of his family members to be dead."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby explained if the case did go to trial, the federal government could prove that the FBI seized a laptop from Shah, which held the original Microsoft Word versions of the letters sent to Cline and others. Ruby also explained there was additional evidence that Shah opened a financial account to receive the money.

He also pleaded guilty to seven counts of mailing threatening communications.  These charges were transferred to West Virginia from the Central District of California.

Shah explained in the hearing that each letter had the same wording but the names and the amounts of money were substituted.

Files in this case have been sealed.

According to a previous story in The State Journal, the indictment specifically charged Shah with two counts of interference with commerce by threats and two counts of transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce.

The criminal complaint also mentioned four other similarly worded extortion letters that were sent to others across the U.S.

According to news reports, Shah is an actor who has had bit parts in movies and in the television series "Bones."

IMDB.com states Shah was born in Akron, Ohio. He lived in the U.S. for the first six years of his life.  After that, his family moved to India.  After spending 10 years in India, Shah moved back to the U.S. along with his family.

IMDB.com lists his roles as, among others, a maitre d' in the 2010 movie "A Family Wedding" and an uncredited role as "Middle Eastern bank hostage" in 2008's "The Dark Knight."

Shah could face up to 87 months in prison and a $2 million fine when he is sentenced at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 11.