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Friends With Benefits: Oh Brother

In Michael Phillips's book Monster in River Oaks, the lawyer-turned-author praises Dinesh Shah's older brother Shyam Shah for ultimately bringing about Dinesh's downfall. Phillips wrote that on the night of December 14, 2002, Shyam Shah was so alarmed by Dinesh Shah's beating of Joan Johnson and her daughter Kaleta that he called 911, and Dinesh Shah is still answering to the consequences of that night.

So it could be argued that Shyam started the chain of events that has ultimately put Dinesh behind bars. What's more, most of the authorities the Houston Press spoke to in writing this story have said words to the effect that Shyam Shah was something like "the good brother," albeit one who lived in terror of his younger sibling.

However, even as he characterizes him as a reluctant hero, Phillips does write that Shyam Shah once leaned on Joan Johnson for money, saying she owed him for that phone call.

And a singularly ugly 12-year-old affidavit in support of a protective order sworn to by Shyam Shah's ex-wife, Vivian Ruiz, an immigration attorney, offers compelling evidence that Shyam Shah could teach even his little brother a thing or two about emotional and physical abuse and dishonesty.

Ruiz said in the affidavit that the ink was barely dry on their July 1991 marriage license when Shyam Shah hit her for the first time: She says he slapped her across the face when she decided to hyphenate her last name rather than take his alone.

In the years that followed, Ruiz said in the affidavit, Shyam would frequently beat her and threaten her via Dinesh. "He intimidated me by claiming that his family had connections, and it would not be wise for me to mess with his family."

On and on the abuse went, according to the affidavit. After a party hosted by one of Ruiz's friends, Ruiz said that a drunken Shyam shoved her brother and threatened to go home and get his "thirty-odd-seven shot-gun [sic] and come back and kill us."

The affidavit goes on to say that five years later, in July of 1997, Shyam confessed to an affair. What's more, his mistress had given birth to his daughter, he said. Seven months after that, Ruiz gave birth to their first child, a daughter. Shah declined to stay at the hospital with his wife that night and refused to take his wife and baby home from the hospital. Two months later, he informed Ruiz that he needed to see his out-of-wedlock daughter because she had an eye infection. This didn't sit well with Ruiz, and they argued. Ruiz says in the affidavit that Shyam slapped her so hard her face was bruised for weeks. For his part, Shah would start spending more and more time with his mistress.

Ruiz said that Shyam's drinking became even more excessive after the 4th of July in 1999. After that, she said in the affidavit, the marriage became unbearable. She was already sleeping on the floor in the baby's room by then, but things got worse. She asked for an amicable separation.   

"There is no divorce in my family!" Shyam said, according to her affidavit. He would go on to tell her that his "mafia family/his influential millionaire brother were going to take care" of her, her family and the baby. Ruiz would tell Shah that there were laws to protect her from him and that she would use them. Shah would always say "that no law or court could protect [Ruiz] from his family." He said that Dinesh Shah was so influential, he could buy the police, FBI and all the judges in Houston, and that Ruiz would be sorry because she would never get away with it. And neither would she ever be able to find a job — the Shah family would see to that.

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The threats would get even more disturbing, according to her affidavit. Shyam Shah would say that he was going to cut her father to pieces and throw him in the river," or "that he would get rid of [Ruiz] in the same manner, or torment [Ruiz] with the image of keeping [her] alive till last so that [she] may witness and suffer the horrifying deaths of each one of my family members."  

After suffering a beating on October 7, 1999, Ruiz finally went to the police and filed a report. Eight days later, she discovered that some jewelry was missing from her safety deposit box. Shyam Shah was enraged when she asked him about it. Ruiz says he assaulted her while she was holding their baby, and  accused her of taking his stuff out of the safety deposit box. Ruiz says he threatened to break her neck in front of the baby, and later that night, Ruiz said in the affidavit, he forced himself on her sexually. As she tried to push him off, Shyam told her to submit, because she was his property. If she continued to resist, he threatened to pop her eyes out, according to her affidavit.

On October 19 that year, Shyam found out about the police reports. (Ruiz had filed another at some unspecified date.) He told her "all hell would be bent loose" soon, and said that he would just lie about the events described. Ruiz did not go to her marital home that night, or ever again. She filed for divorce in November 1999, citing cruelty and adultery. Two years later, the divorce was settled. By then Ruiz had moved out of state. Since he was ruled to have committed family violence, Shah was granted supervised visits with their daughter, pending at least 16 court-ordered sessions with a therapist.

Vanessa Ruiz did not return an e-mail asking for comment. When questioned specifically about this affidavit, and more generally about his brother's activities, Shyam Shah declined comment, citing the cases pending against Dinesh. — John Nova Lomax

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