'Real Housewives of NJ' 's Danielle on Her Arrest: 'What's the Big Deal?'

Photo: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo

Allegations of drug use, prostitution and plastic surgery are just part of the storm of controversy surrounding The Real Housewives of New Jersey‘s Danielle Staub. Now, for the very first time, Staub opens up about her past, and hits back at the rumors and innuendo.

“It was such a lifetime ago,” Staub, 46, tells PEOPLE in its latest issue, describing the version of herself that’s chronicled in a 1996 book titled Cop Without a Badge — a book that her Jersey costars discovered and confronted her with on the show’s fourth episode.

The out-of-print book by Charles Kipps tells the sordid story of Kevin Maher, an undercover informant for the FBI who was briefly married to Staub in the late 1980s — when she went by the name Beverly Merrill. Among the book’s claims, and claims made by Maher since The Real Housewives of New Jersey began last month, Staub was not only involved in a seamy underworld of Miami drug dealers, but worked for an escort service.

“I was never a prostitute. Never,” Staub says in the new issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday — adding that her ex-husband’s “recollection of me is completely absurd.”

When it comes to Maher’s claims that she boasted of having bedded 1,000 men, she says, “I do enjoy a healthy sex life, but with one partner at a time.”

As for the book’s references to her heavy cocaine use? “I was a pothead. Period,” Staub says.

Staub does admit she was arrested in June 1986 and charged as an accessory in a kidnap and ransom plot — perpetrated by an allegedly drug-dealing boyfriend and his associates. But she says that her criminal past is long behind her: “I was arrested — what is the big deal?” she says, adding, “I haven’t gotten as much as a traffic ticket in all these years.”

In her interview with PEOPLE, Staub claims she suffered a history of sexual abuse at a young age, and “got in with the wrong crowd” as a teen. She also claims that Maher “brutalized and terrorized” her during their short marriage. (Maher denies those claims, but admits to PEOPLE, “I did hit her. I’m not proud of it.”)

The divorced mother of two girls, Christine, 15, and Jillian, 11, had told her daughters all about her past before the show ever aired, and says airing her dirty laundry on TV hasn’t hurt them — or her. “I have no regrets,” she says.

As for rumors of her plastic surgery? Besides Botox (and the lip plumping she tried on-air), “I haven’t had anything done,” she says. “Just my bubbies. Two times.” — Mark Dagostino

To read the rest of Danielle Staub’s interview, pick up the new PEOPLE, on newsstands FridayVirginia Sherwood/Bravo

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