"keep smiling"

"I stand out because I sell a specific concept to the girls who aren't going to win," he explained. "We have to make sure those girls feel good about themselves even when they're going to fail."

But technically these men can't make the girls "feel good" without playing by the rules. The MUO owns all rights to the Miss USA state preliminary pageants, but licenses individuals and companies to operate their state level pageants with their Miss USA branding. If MUO says a recruiter has to go, then the recruiter has to go. But DeSando didn't go.

Lewis says K2 Productions makes all recruiters sign a Code of Conduct every year that uses language from the franchise agreement he has with MUO. "Our job is to uphold the standards of the Miss Universe Organization," he said. "I'll lose my franchise if it's found I'm not doing that."

But the men violated or attempted to violate more rules than they followed, from the way they liberally peppered their various endeavors with the Miss USA marks without approval to the way they tried to solicit clients for their sketchy side projects to, of course, failing to uphold "the upstanding reputation and image" of the pageant.

Further investigations go in all kinds of directions. Here's just one: DeSando's best friend and former roommate was John B. Hawkins, a model and former Studio 54 bartender who was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, insurance fraud and grand theft and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for devising a scheme in the late '80s to murder a man in order to collect a $1.5 million life insurance policy.

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