A former Miss California USA contestant who was "discovered" by Erik DeSando, one of the pageant recruiters whose questionable practices we exposed in our recent Miss USA investigation, says she was showered with compliments and special gifts allegedly from Donald Trump himself. She was promised fame and fortune — all if she would sleep with him. So she did. When we confronted DeSando with her story, he resigned from It Girls, his brand new manipulative endeavor.
Miranda Bryant, now 24, left Tennessee for Los Angeles in the summer of 2010 after breaking up with an abusive boyfriend. "I came out with a little pink diary, one outfit, and less than ten dollars," she said. The beauty pageant circuit seemed like a good way to get her name out there and start meeting friends. Miranda competed locally — she's listed as Miss Point Dume on Miss California USA's website — before spotting a Craigslist ad for Miss California USA. "A state pageant sounded like the real deal," she said.
After Miranda sent in photos, she was invited to a meeting in February 2011 at a "sketchy" office in the valley that "looked more like a dirty tire shop than the headquarters for the most prestigious pageant in the nation," she recalled. That's where she met Erik DeSando, the co-founder of official Miss California USA recruitment company Chase the Crown who often refers to himself as "the top pageant recruiter in the country." He took her into a room with a projection screen that showed contestants getting crowned on loop and told her that her life had changed forever thanks to meeting him.
"He went on and on: 'You live in the Golden State, you have golden skin, you're the golden girl,'" Miranda said. "He said he knew I was special and that I was going to be famous. He said he had all these plans for me that he would disclose in the future." She paid her first nonrefundable registration fee, which at the time was $845. (Multiple people, including DeSando, told us Miss California USA gets a bad rap for being one of the most expensive pageants in the system; contestants pay $1,795 a pop even if they don't end up competing.) As the two continued chatting, Miranda opened up about the reasons why she left Tennessee and DeSando told her she should call him if she ever needed a friend. "I take full responsibility for letting him into my world," she said. "But I think he's a predator and he smelled out that I was a victim. He knew the state of mind I was in."
DeSando took her out on the town soon after and told her he would be her mentor. At first she felt at ease with him, Miranda said, thanks to the endless flattery; he told her that she had the best body in Hollywood and that she would be the perfect star for his upcoming TV show. After she sang for him, he promised her his music connections would make her a star. She told him she had been paid to go on dinner dates with rich men through seekingmillionaires.com, and he proposed a similar scenario — except it wouldn't end when the check came.
"He said if you help me out, I'll help you out," Miranda said. She claims they slept together around once a month for about eight months. During that time, he would also ask her to meet wealthy investors for his projects so they could see "what they were investing in" and parade her around in front of his visiting nephew to show him "everything that was in store for him" if he moved to LA. He regularly took her out for dinner and gave her cash to buy food in exchange for sex.
"I really depended on him," Miranda said. "I didn't have anyone."
The arrangement continued until the Miss California USA pageant in January 2012, where Miranda didn't come out on top. That's when it hit her: She had endured months of manipulation for nothing more than a cheap banner that gave her a rash. DeSando smirked at her, Miranda says, and said, "I never said you were going to win." It was the end of their relationship; needless to say, he never followed up on any of the other opportunities he promised Miranda, either.
Miranda is now back in Tennessee and taking classes in criminal justice at her local community college; she hopes to transfer to a four-year university and eventually become a FBI agent. She's also debating trying out for Miss Tennessee USA, which is why she was nervous about sharing her story. "But darkness always comes to light," she said.
The one souvenir Miranda has still has from her L.A. beauty queen days is a pair of teeny tiny booty shorts and a baby t-shirt, both emblazoned with the official Miss California USA logo. She said Erik gave them to her one day at his apartment; he claimed Donald Trump had sent them to him personally to give to the "most special" girls. Most women just got the shorts, DeSando told her; Miranda was worth the top, too.
The Miss Universe Organization did not respond to requests for comment. DeSando adamantly denied ever having a sexual relationship with Miranda and called her "unstable."
"We were friends, and I was kind to all the girls, but everyone knew Miranda had problems," DeSando said. "She was adorable, but impossible to deal with." He also said he didn't think Miranda had ever been to his apartment. But Miranda provided us with his address, in addition to other details that back up her account.
After we spoke with DeSando, Spelling Communications VP Brian McWilliams, who handles public relations for It Girls, notified us that DeSando had officially resigned from the company he founded, effective immediately.