Longform

Friends with Benefits

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Reading from his case file, Anderson quotes Siegler as saying that Shah strode over to him and told him that he was Jackson's attorney, and what's more, a graduate of Harvard Law. Shah stressed that Siegler needed to take good care of his "long-time friend" Jackson, the retired FBI agent turned, in Shah's words, "real estate tycoon." Shah told Siegler that Jackson needed him around to fend off the charlatans who continually pestered and attempted to chisel him. It seemed to Siegler that it was "exorbitantly important" for Shah to persuade him how important he — Dinesh Shah — was. It didn't work. Siegler, the husband of flamboyant former Harris County prosecutor Kelly Siegler, seems to share her cop gene. He noted that Shah's cheap suit was "inconsistent with his grandiosity." 

Almost as soon as Shah met Estopinal, he wanted to know if she had been the one who called Adult Protective Services. Estopinal told him that she did. Shah wanted to know why. She told him that it looked to her like her dad was dying and that something needed to be done. Shah didn't argue that point. Estopinal then asked Shah what kind of law he practiced, and told her he was a semiretired New York corporate attorney back home in Houston to manage his many investments.

"And I'm from River Oaks," he added.

The arrow on Estopinal's bullshit detector immediately leaped to DefCon Five. "People from River Oaks don't just go around saying that," she says. "That was when I really knew something was up."
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Shah was not done overplaying his hand. Another man who had once been close to him speculates that Shah was starting to feel invincible at this point, and why not? He had avoided prison and the sex offender registry in the Johnson case, and he was scoffing at many of the most onerous terms of his probation. He was simply not going to pay what was due in his civil case and just carry on doing what he did best.

Shah was hardly a model probationer. The "gainful employment" he was required to obtain — working for a tax prep service — was later found to be a sham. At his revocation hearing last fall, the prosecution said he continually lied about being broke, and was still concealing large sums of money and assets. By then, he'd also been charged with two more felonies — holding himself out as the attorney of Kenneth Jackson and beating up his roommate, Swedish-bred Houston Ballet dancer Jonathan Davidsson, and suspected, though never formally charged, in two more cases — of allegedly stealing between $20,000 and $100,000 from two separate childhood friends.

And there's more. One document on file at the courthouse states that he "creeped out" an employee of the company assigned to do his court-mandated psychiatric evaluation. He told an employee there that it was unfair that he was being forced to submit to such a test and that it was only because the court that convicted him was "full of white Republican lesbians."

The words "creeped out" also come up in another document on file at the courthouse. Judge Jeannine Barr, the criminal court judge who presided over his case, has a unique program for probationers in her court. As part of their community service, Barr assigns those who are physically unable (or unwilling, as the case may be with Shah) to do manual labor to come to a room near her chambers and quilt blankets for sick kids at area hospitals. Shah reportedly freaked out a fellow probationer with his overly probing questions (about her finances and personal life). He also openly bitched about his lot in life: "I am way too important and rich to be in here making blankets," he told his fellow miscreant. The other probationer requested that Shah never quilt alongside her again.

What's more, police say Dinesh's brother Shyam Shah is intimidating witnesses on his brother's behalf by parking in front of their houses and eyeballing them. (No charges have been filed.) 

One man who believes Shyam Shah is tailing him is "Dave Martin," who didn't want his real name used in this article. Five years after Dinesh Shah was removed from the Johnsons' life, Dinesh Shah tried some of the same tactics on Martin.

In about May of 2007, Martin was down in the dumps. An investment had gone south and the fiftysomething artist and former Montrose punk rocker had lost a sizable inheritance. He was drinking more than was good for him, and though he'd stayed out of trouble for more than 15 years, he had a history of DWIs. Any new DWIs would be felonies.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax