On the afternoon of Thursday, April 4, Shannade Clermont learned her fate in a downtown Manhattan federal court room. As one-half of model and reality star siblings the Clermont Twins, she was facing fraud charges sure to further cement the pair's now-infamous reputation among their fans on the internet. But as a human being, in real time, Shannade's character traits, flaws and all, were under scrutiny that few who have followed her will ever experience.
The felony wire fraud charge was in connection with a 42-year-old real estate broker named James Alesi, with whom she had a prostitution date on the night of January 31, 2017. During the meeting, Alesi reportedly drank alcohol and took cocaine mixed with fentanyl before passing out. Shannade then allegedly used the opportunity to copy info from two of Alesi's debit cards, then left without telling anyone Alesi was incapacitated. The next morning, maintenance workers in Alesi's East Side apartment building found him dead.
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The court found Shannade guilty of said wire fraud, which involved stealing his debit card information while he was passed out, and making illegal purchases in the weeks following, including for rent, luxury clothes, and plane tickets. Court documents reveal that Shannade created fake email accounts to wire more than $20,000 of Alesi's money to herself. She used it to pay for phone bills, Valentino shoes, a Philipp Plein jacket, Beats headphones, and a gift certificate for a beauty salon.
For her actions, Shannade was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay more than $5,000 in restitution.
Inside the courtroom, 10 minutes before the scheduled 2:30 pm sentencing, Alesi's family occupied every seat in the far right two rows of benches and talked quietly among themselves. I sat in the empty left-side benches opposite them. A few minutes later, Jeffrey Lichtman, the lawyer defending El Chapo's drug trafficking case, came in and set his bag down. He paced back and forth, visibly taking deep breaths.
After saying hello to Alesi's family and conferring with the plaintiff's lawyer, Lichtman left the room for a moment before guiding Shannon and Shannade Clermont to their seats, along with family members and friends. There was unnerving silence when the Clermonts entered, both sporting blonde, angular bobs and matching gray trench coats with splashes of blue. When they sat in the row directly in front of me, they stiffened and stared straight ahead, expressionless and stoic. Shannade sat on the outside row closest to the chamber floor facing the judge. Shannon grasped their mother's hand tightly, her heavy lashes flickering as she swatted away tears.
Alesi's family stared over at the Clermont crew in faces that registered, to me, as slow-burning disgust and curiosity — a mixed reaction that's similar to how the public has often viewed the polarizing Clermont Twins. Disgust and curiosity from the public seem to go hand-in-hand with notoriety and success, as shown throughout the history of fame.
When the presiding judge, Southern District of New York's Naomi Buchwald, entered the chamber, all rose and all sat.
Lichtman was beckoned forward by Buchwald to present his final arguments for Shannade's freedom. By this time, Shannade was sitting up front between her counsel, a blue tissue box just within her reach. Lichtman expressed his condolences to the deceased man's family, announcing that he died of an accidental overdose, and stating that Shannade Clermont had "no responsibility in what happened" to him.
Buchwald nodded, but expressed doubt: "As a legal matter, whether civil or criminal, is Ms. Clermont responsible [for Alesi's death?] I'm not totally sure, because I don't know what happened in the three and a half hours that she was in his apartment," Buchwald said. "[Shannade] won't answer those questions now... Had she called 911 before she left him, we don't know what would've happened."
Lichtman responded: "If it's possible for her to be charged in this man's death, she would have been by now. I can appreciate the pain the family is going through... [Shannade] is an easy target because she is presumably the last person who saw [Alesi] alive."
Alesi's apartment building had a doorman and security cameras. Lichtman noted that if Shannade called 911, it would've absolved her of any involvement if she knew Alesi was in any kind of distress. "She didn't know this," Lichtman said. "She didn't buy the drugs or give him the drugs."
Buchwald interrupted: "Or maybe she didn't want to be caught... or [she thought], I don't want to be involved with law enforcement as a prostitute." Then the judge clarified: "I could totally care less if someone wants to prostitute," she said.
Lichtman went on to say that Shannade became a victim of harassment, online threats, and real-life bullying once the news broke of her involvement with Alesi. "This happened to someone who has lived a law-abiding life," he said. "The attacks [Shannade] has received on email, on the internet, in person... she was on the verge of suicide [because of the negative attention]." He later argued that Shannade's pre-sentence interview detailed that she was experiencing suicidal ideation, and was impetus for her and sister Shannon's starting of The Clermont Foundation to raise awareness for mental health issues.
"Excuse me," Buchwald interjected. "Haven't I given her six times to travel for public appearances? That doesn't seem like a person on the verge of suicide, at least not to me."
Lichtman rebutted, saying that in light of the scandalous case, Shannade's profile has been devalued. Over the last couple years, following their appearance of Bad Girls' Club, the Clermont Twins became fixtures of New York's underground and high-profile fashion scenes. They launched their own label, Mont Boudoir, which has been described as a luxe collection merging "Western cowboy and gothy '90s starlet" influences. They sat front row at shows like Vaquera, Laquan Smith, and Area, and walked the Gypsy Sport runway a few seasons ago. Perhaps most notably of their recent achievements, they starred in Yeezy Season 6's clone-themed campaign, alongside Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and Jordyn Woods.
Now, "[Shannade] has been reduced to making appearances in gentlemen's clubs, half-naked," Lichtman said.
He argued that her extreme visibility and the harassment she has received are sufficient punishment for Shannade's actions. "Imagine the worst thing you've ever done being dragged out by the media," Lichtman said. "She's endured punishment no other person [without her public profile] in a fraud case would have to... plus, she's got genuine remorse."
Lichtman went on to cite other cases involving stock and bottling fraud, in which those accused received reduced sentences, as a reason why Shannade should not receive prison time. He also suggested that aligning Shannade with her on-screen persona on Bad Girls' Club was akin to character assassination.
"What about the focus on her life when no one was watching?" he said. He went on to tell the story of how the Clermont Twins came to be what they are today, from humble beginnings in small town Georgia, a period during which they were so poor they "made their own clothes and bathed in pools," to striving for success in New York. Shannade studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design, before appearing on reality TV. "The show made it impossible for her to achieve what she wanted to, and she became a prostitute," Lichtman said. "You may not hold it against her, Judge, but she holds it against herself."
He continued. "Her conduct in this case was rare and aberrational. Judge her entire life, not only this moment, as you hand down your sentence."
When Shannade rose to address the court, she was extremely choked up as she unfolded a piece of paper with her statement. The reporters sitting next to me scribbled furiously in their notebooks to capture each word, uttered between sobs and sniffles. "I wish we were brought together under different circumstances," she opened.
"I want to apologize to everyone in this courtroom," Shannade continued, turning toward Alesi's family. "I made a terrible, selfish decision. I feel like I'm in a recurring nightmare that's happening... I can't pretend to be perfect because [if I were] I wouldn't be here. I want to take full responsibility. Your honor, I ask for you to give me a second chance... this will never happen again. I lost sight of who I was during that time in my life."
Since the sentencing, the Clermont Twins have been silent online, save for one post which implies Shannade doesn't "want to take full responsibility," as she suggested to Buchwald. On Instagram, the twins posted a photo with the caption, "Any Bitch in our situation would've been fold," alongside the hashtag, "#freeshannade." Famous followers like Munroe Bergdorf, Murda Beatz, Tanisha Thomas, and City Girls all commented with support.
But at the sentencing, Shannade's family huddled together after her statement. Shannon squeezed their mother's hand.
Alesi's family didn't find out what happened between their relative and Shannade until two months after his death, when they were handling the sale of his estate. This was the basis of the family's legal argument — that Shannade "took advantage of the situation."
"She did this out of greed to keep up with her public image," their lawyer argued. "Identify theft is all too common, and her 1.2 million followers need to know that there are serious consequences for these actions... She stole from the man right in front of her."
Alesi's sister Joelle spoke before the court, calling Shannade "deceptive and thoughtless." She asserted that Shannade's actions caused so much heartbreak within their family, that her mother and father "died six months within each other." What Shannade did after knowing her brother died "tells [you] who she really is," Joelle said.
"Your honor, it takes five seconds to call 911," she continued. "She took the time to steal my brother's credit card info. It takes longer to do that [than to make a 911 call]. Ms. Clermont waited six weeks to start shopping. It was all calculated in advance, done out of greed and with malicious intent."
Joelle concluded: "My brother died and [Shannade] went shopping."
As Judge Buchwald prepared to give her final verdict, the Clermont and Alesi families sat upright and seemed to lean forward in anticipation. The room was completely silent.
Buchwald noted that first she had to consider the seriousness of the offense, and find a just punishment — then consider the sentence's broader impact on the community. In this case, those who might look at Shannade Clermont's actions and consider them somehow iconic, even if they are proven to be criminal. Though Buchwald didn't offer this specifically, our current fascination with millennial scam culture is a prime example, as seen with someone like Anna Delvey. The judge explained that the sentence had to be carried out regardless of press or emotions present. The mandatory sentence of 12 to 18 months for wire fraud, if the accused was found guilty, therefore had to be imposed.
"When faced with a real test of character, Ms. Clermont close to leave [the victim's] apartment with his debit card information without calling 911," Judge Buchwald said. "No foundation, established after her arrest, can account for that lack of character."
She continued, adding that she thought Shannade had become "enamored with surface values," and so the sentence of 12 months in prison and supervised release for three years was delivered. The judge noted that she had several other hearings that day and so everyone was ordered to leave the courtroom immediately.
The courtroom remained silent, even as Shannade burst into loud sobs and was surrounded by her family. A handful of reporters lingered, eagerly anticipating the Clermont and Alesi families' exits. I rode the elevator down with the Alesis, who exited first.
Outside the courtroom, I noticed something surprising. For all the buzz surrounding the Clermont Twins, one would be hard-pressed to find the fans or supporters who defend them online. I'd at least have expected some of their 1.2 million Instagram followers to be waiting outside to offer words of support, or even words of vitriol for the family in mourning. Now was their chance to show up in a real life moment dramatically altering the Clermont Twins' lives — especially on a sunny Thursday afternoon in New York, outside a sentencing that was open to the public. Where were they?
Instead, as I descended the courthouse steps, I saw only two bleary-eyed photographers, readying their cameras for a close-up.
Photography: Jason Altaan