Reports are now emerging that Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein was the target of an alleged extortion plot by a fledgling actor who sent Weinstein a letter in July saying his family’s lives would be in danger if he did not wire $4 million to an offshore account.
Weinstein is married to his second wife, fashion designer Georgina Chapman, with whom he has one daughter. He has three daughters with his first wife. He immediately contacted the FBI upon receiving the letter. “Business is business,” Weinstein said, “but this is my family.”
Vivek Shah, 25, was arrested August 10 at his parents’ home in Schaumburg, Illinois. Shah, a resident of West Hollywood, was indicted on August 22. The FBI tracked him down by the overseas accounts he had opened to receive extortion money. In addition to Weinstein, he also targeted several other wealthy individuals, including coal magnate Christopher Cline, Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky, and oil executive Terry Pegula, who also owns the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres,
Shah arranged to take shooting lessons in L.A. before his arrest, leading investigators to believe he planned to use deadly force to carry out the extortion scheme. He was described by one of his neighbors as “socially awkward,” while Shah’s aunt called him “a good kid.”
Weinstein, 60, along with his brother Bob, founded Miramax Films in the late 1970s with money they made from producing rock concerts. The company was named after their parents, Miriam and Max. Through the mid-’80s to late ’90s, Miramax released a number of highly successful mainstream and art house films, including Sex, Lies and Videotape, The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction, The English Patient, and Good Will Hunting. Weinstein won an Oscar in 1998 as one of the producers of Best Picture winner Shakespeare in Love.
The Weinsteins sold Miramax to Disney in 1993 before leaving the company to form The Weinstein Company in 2005.
Shah’s attorney, Troy Giatras, said the arrest came as a shock to his client’s family. “They are certainly surprised. He is not somebody that has ever hurt anyone in the past and certainly everyone is very happy that no one has been hurt in this case,” Giatras said. “Right now we are just waiting to receive some evidence and move forward.”
According to the Internet Movie Database, Shah was an extra in The Dark Knight and had bit parts on the TV series Outsourced and Bones. He has also appeared in commercials for Nokia and Intel, including one that ran during the 2010 Super Bowl. He is being held in federal custody without bail in West Virginia. He faces a maximum sentence of forty years behind bars.