Two years ago, Calgary real estate executive Ryan Alexander Jenkins was sentenced to 15 months' probation and ordered to complete domestic violence counseling after hitting his then-girlfriend.
But Jenkins came to Los Angeles and was selected as a contestant on the VH1 reality show "Megan Wants a Millionaire," on which wealthy men compete for the love of a young woman. Now Jenkins is wanted in the slaying of his ex-wife, model Jasmine Fiore, and "Megan Wants a Millionaire" has been abruptly pulled off the air by VH1.
The case raises questions about how a man with a record of domestic violence got onto a show on which the object is to marry a woman.
"Obviously, it's a huge screw-up here," said Jon Taplin, a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication who teaches digital entertainment. "Part of the problem is there's such a huge machine needing people to go on TV. . . . But the problem is: If you need so many contestants, you're probably not going to do the best job of screening them."
A spokesman for VH1 said that the network did not know about "any issues regarding any of the contestants on this show" and that it was standard practice in the industry for the company that produced the show to be "responsible for the screening/vetting process of contestant." VH1 licensed the show from Los Angeles-based 51 Minds Entertainment.
According to a statement released by a spokesman for 51 Minds, the company was not aware of Jenkins' record when it cast him.
"Obviously, if the company had been given a full picture of his background, he would never have been allowed on the show," said the statement, provided earlier this week by Allan Mayer of the public relations firm 42 West. Mayer released another statement Friday saying Jenkins' criminal record slipped through the cracks because of "an error by a Canadian court clerk."
"To conduct background checks on potential cast members for 'Megan Wants a Millionaire' 51 Minds Entertainment hired a well-respected investigative firm called Collective Intelligence, which has done similar work for more than 90 production companies involving hundreds of TV shows on virtually every major network," the statement read. "According to Collective Intelligence, Ryan Jenkins' criminal record in Canada escaped notice not because of any lapse on their part but as a result of an error by a Canadian court clerk."
After production of "Megan Wants a Millionaire" ended, Jenkins was selected as a contestant for the third season of a second VH1 reality show, "I Love Money." In June, he was charged with hitting Fiore at a Las Vegas hotel.
According to a law enforcement source familiar with the case, what began as a verbal altercation in the hotel's swimming pool area escalated into violence. Jenkins has a court date Dec. 18. It remains unclear whether VH1 knew about that charge.
Jenkins' case is not the first time that such details have been revealed about a reality TV contestant after filming. One of the most notorious examples occurred in 2000 with Fox's "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire," on which women competed to marry a man named Rick Rockwell. It was revealed that a former girlfriend obtained a restraining order against him in 1991.
Fiore's body was found Aug. 15 stuffed in a suitcase in a Buena Park trash bin. Authorities said her teeth had been pulled out and her fingers cut off. Coroner's officials identified her using a serial number on a breast implant, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.
Authorities believe Jenkins is on the run in British Columbia but have not confirmed his presence there.