A Miss America contestant who claims someone is trying to blackmail her with relatively tame photos lifted from a private Web page told TODAY host Matt Lauer that whoever is trying to force her to drop out of the beauty pageant is a “miserable person.”
Amy Polumbo, who was crowned Miss New Jersey last month, insists that she has no idea who might have assembled the packages sent to two pageants last week.
“I really don’t know,” she said. “Whoever this is, I think they are a miserable person and I really feel bad for them.”
Polumbo doubts a relative or friend is trying to get her to drop out of the upcoming pageant and she hopes the alleged blackmailer isn’t another contestant.
“We don’t know [who sent the packages.] It really could be anyone,” Polumbo said during an exclusive interview Monday on TODAY. “It’s really disheartening to think it could be a contestant.”
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office is trying to identify whoever mailed two sets of photographs and typewritten letters last week to Miss America and Miss New Jersey pageant officials. Although Polumbo said she has seen the photos in the first package, she has not seen the photos in a separate one received over the weekend.
The packages contained photos that the 22-year-old beauty believes were taken from a password-protected page she maintains for family and friends on Facebook, the social networking site.
The sender threatened to release the photos publicly if Polumbo does not drop out of the Miss America pageant. So far, she has refused to do.
“How racy could [the photos] be?” Lauer asked Polumbo. “How damaging could they be?”
“They’re not bad,” she said. “I’m a normal college girl.”
“These are not sexual photos? These are not pornographic photos in any way?” Lauer asked.
“No,” Polumbo said.
“So then here’s my confusion,” Lauer followed up. “How can you blackmail someone with photos that would OK for your family to see? ... Why not release the photos and move on?”
“It is still being investigated,” Polumbo said.
Photos never meant to be public
Although Polumbo does not believe the photos violate any pageant rules, the committee reviewing the images could take a different view.
“Is there any cause for concern, Amy, that you could be stripped of your crown?” TODAY’s Natalie Morales asked Polumbo later in the program.
“There is, but like I said, it’s all in their decision making,” Polumbo said.
Responding to a question submitted by a viewer via e-mail, Polumbo’s attorney, Anthony Caruso, bristled at the suggestion Polumbo might have sent the packages to generate sympathy and publicity.
Polumbo called captions sent with the photos “disgusting” and that they should serve as sufficient proof that Polumbo was not involved in sending the packages.
Asked by another viewer why she would post the photos on the Internet if she was aware of the pageant’s character clause, Polumbo said it never occurred to her that someone could try to use images meant to be private to try to derail her quest to become Miss America.
“I never could imagine that someone would want to do this to another person,” she said. “To my friends and I, these pictures were innocuous.”
Caruso said Miss America pageant officials are also investigating the incident. Later this week, Polumbo hopes to get a pageant committee’s clearance and continue her quest for the Miss America crown.
Ironically, promoting Internet safety
Although the photos do not appear to depict Polumbo doing anything illegal or anything that would violate the “moral turpitude” clause of the pageant rules, Caruso said his client has to remain concerned about the possibility the would-be blackmailer or someone else could release “doctored” photos in the future.
“I’m not doing anything illegal. No nudity,” said Polumbo, who ironically has adopted promoting Internet safety as part of her Miss America campaign.
The blackmailing incident is the latest to propel the Miss America pageant into the headlines for reasons other than the pageant itself.
The reigning Miss America, Lauren Nelson, stirred controversy this spring when she teamed up with “Dateline NBC ”and police in Suffolk County, N.Y., to lure suspected online predators into a police trap.