Donald Trump's Miss Universe Organization, which operates the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants, draws viewers with sexy beauty queens in teeny bikinis. But titleholders are publicly chastised by Trump himself and sometimes lose their crowns altogether if they fail to reach "the highest ethical and moral standards" outlined in their contracts by posing nude. So why didn't officials care that one of their most important employees, a highly successful former state director, publicly donned assless chaps to represent a BDSM dungeon in the Mr. Los Angeles Leather pageant? Because the men who run the Miss USA pageants aren't held to the same narrow-minded standards as the young women who compete in them — and MUO President Paula M. Shugart told us those standards wouldn't be changing anytime soon.
Last month, Jezebel took a close look at the state-level pageants run by the production companies contracted by the Miss Universe Organization as part of an investigation into the shady underbelly of the Miss USA pageant system. The largest and most successful state-level pageant is Miss California USA, which is run by K2 Productions. K2 Productions oversees both the California pageant and, through a subsidiary company, recruits thousands of potential Miss USAs looking to compete for the crown. Our reporting revealed that some of the men involved with K2 Productions and Miss California USA — and, in turn, MUO — are scam artists who abuse their power, securing both money and alleged sexual favors from would-be contestants.
K2 Productions is run by Keith Lewis; he oversees the Miss California USA enterprise. Or he did, anyhow.
Numerous Miss USA contestants have been shamed for perfectly legal sexual behavior. In 2009, former Miss California USA Carrie Prejean lost her crown for "contract violations" after topless photos were leaked to the press; the contract Prejean signed with MUO contained a clause asking participants whether they had ever been photographed nude or even partially nude and if they conducted themselves "in accordance with the highest ethical and moral standards."
Other pageant queens whose reigns were jeopardized by MUO's subjective moral code include former Miss Nevada USA Katie Rees, who was dethroned in December 2006 thanks to photos of the 22-year-old taken at a Florida nightclub three years prior that showed her flashing her breasts, kissing other women, and simulating oral sex, and Rima Fakih, Miss USA 2010, who nearly lost her crown after some pole-dancing photos surfaced; she was clothed, but officials still felt the need to "investigate." Just last February, Miss Delaware Teen USA Melissa King was forced to resign after a sex tape that appeared to star her and an unidentified man appeared on a porn website. Trump told Howard Stern that the 18-year-old (who still denies she's the woman in the video) had been advised to step down "very quickly" before she was kicked out.
Former Miss Teen USA Keylee Sanders, who co-ran K2 Productions along with Lewis, dramatically decried King's alleged behavior; just the suggestion of the tape's existence warranted a takedown. "It is sad to see such things happen to the brand and the reputation of the organization. It is an honor to be part of the Miss Universe Organization and [it] can provide huge life changing opportunities for young women," Sanders said in a statement to E! News. "If the footage is of Miss King, I feel this is a perfect example for all teens to learn that these types of actions of [sic] consequences."
The MUO reserves the right to determine the moral standards to which its participants are held; the winners serve as the organization's public faces, so it's understandable that Miss Universe, Miss USA and their state-level pageants would enforce their vague rules when it feels that certain behaviors put its brand at risk. But the contestants aren't the only ones who sign on a dotted line to uphold MUO's morals. Lewis told us that K2 Productions makes all recruiters sign a Code of Conduct every year that uses language from the franchise agreement he has as a state director with MUO. "Our job is to uphold the standards of the Miss Universe Organization," he said.
But judging from Keith Lewis' recreational proclivities — which weren't exactly secret — the "moral code" was only enforced for the ladies.
Under the pseudonym Russ Coleman, Lewis represented The Sanctuary LAX — which describes itself as "the largest, and one of the most prestigious, multi-chambered dungeons in greater Los Angeles" — in Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2010. As a founding member of the fetishist fraternity L.A. Band of Brothers, Lewis hosted his leather-clad buddies around the same dining room table in his home that he uses to teach Miss California USA girls about dinner etiquette.
Everyone should be able to whip and fist whomever they please without being stigmatized, but there's a double-standard here. Lewis clearly wasn't all that concerned about how his hobbies affected his day job; when he chose to compete in Mr. Los Angeles Leather, he filled out an application that waived "any and all claims for injury and damage to my person, property, or reputation [emphasis ours] that may arise now or in the future, from any cause whatsoever, in connection with any participation in the MR. SANCTUARY LEATHER 2010."
Why did K2 Productions — which also produced Miss New York USA and Miss New Hampshire USA, as well as the respective teen competitions for each state — denounce the young female contestants who pay $1,795 a pop to enter their pageants while its director competed for the title of Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2010?
The very man who, as head of Miss California USA, saw to it that Carrie Prejean lost her crown when racy photos surfaced — who signed a code of conduct with MUO and asked his recruiters to do the same — was himself knee-deep in the BDSM community and posing in assless chaps.
MUO severed ties with K2 Productions last week. MUO President Paula M. Shugart declined to say more about why Lewis was terminated and said she wanted to "remove herself" from our recent stories about K2 Productions, which will no longer produce any state pageants.
But if MUO took issue with a fully-clothed woman posing on a pole, would they care about Lewis' bare ass? A MUO spokesperson said she couldn't confirm how much the organization had known about Lewis's kinky side, but multiple MUO-affiliated sources told Jezebel that Lewis didn't try very hard to hide his fondness for BDSM; a former state director even tried to sell us photos of Lewis in in a domination demonstration.
When we asked Lewis whether he had ever used the pseudonym Russ Coleman, he said he didn't know what we were talking about, then called this reporter a "liar" and the story "hearsay and sleaze."
Shugart said she didn't feel that an independent contractor should necessarily be held to the same standards as a contestant, but that MUO decides whether to dethrone and denounce its young contestants for falling short of "ethical and moral standards" on a case by case basis. "I'm not going to say people are perfect," she said. "[The pageant] is an opportunity for personal growth." What if MUO simply let go of its hypocritical "ethical and moral standards" and, instead, paid more attention to how their contestants are treated by state directors and pageant recruiters? The organization's decision to terminate Lewis following our initial investigation into the scam artists who recruit and run the organization's lucrative pageants seems like a good start.