Leah McSweeney will make her debut on Thursday’s Real Housewives of New York City as the Bravo franchise’s newest apple-holding star. And while the tough-talking, no-nonsense, tattooed 37-year-old fashion brand owner may not look on the surface like she has much in common with uptowners like Luann de Lesseps and Sonja Morgan, there’s at least one thing that connects them: their mugshots.
“Literally, the worst photo of me ever,” McSweeney jokes to PEOPLE of the picture, which is featured prominently in the season 12 premiere. “People are going to think I had reconstructive face surgery, which I have not had, it’s so bad. It’s just such a weird photo that is distorted-looking. And it doesn’t even look like what I looked like then, you know? Oh my god.”
Though McSweeney may sound regretful, she’s not. The New York City native owns every part of herself, even that past run-in with the law.
“Yeah, there’s no shame in my game,” she says. “I am a straight shooter.”
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She was arrested back in 2002, she tells PEOPLE, during an altercation outside the Hammerstein Ballroom — which years later would host Bravo’s first-ever fan convention, BravoCon.
As McSweeney recalls, she had been at a concert that night until roughly 4 a.m., dancing the night away with her then-crush. Like the rest of the attendees, she piled out into the street when the concert was over, and soon found herself in the throws of a makeout with her date. But during their kiss, police swooped in to clear the crowd and wound up separating McSweeney from her kissing partner.
“I felt him being pulled away from me, and there was five police officers beating him up,” recalls McSweeney, who was 20 years old at the time. “It was really scary. And I had a half-empty plastic water bottle with me and I threw it — not even directly at someone, just threw it in that direction. It was just a total knee-jerk reaction. But it hit a cop in the back.”
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The NYPD officer didn’t respond well to that, McSweeney says.
“He turned around and lunged at me and punched me in the face,” she recalls. “I fell onto the sidewalk, and suddenly I had four cops on my back, cuffing me. I just felt so many knees on my back. And one of them slammed my face into the subway grates and knocked my tooth out.”
“It was really bad,” she says, with a laugh. “And what’s worst, it was the 4th of July! And I was in this cell doing situps, like, ‘What is life?’ How am I locked up on Independence Day? Leah, get your s— together!’ ”
Luckily, McSweeney was able to turn that situation into something good. She pursued legal action and wound up with a $75,000 payout that she used to kick-start her women’s streetwear company, Married to the Mob.
A full 14 years later, Married to the Mob has grown into one of the forefront streetwear brands designed for women, by women. It’s reaching distribution in over 100 retailers, and just on Thursday, relaunched its e-commerce website.
“That was the silver lining,” McSweeney says. “I’m really proud of my business and how far we’ve come.”
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And while she admits she’s embarrassed for the world to see her mugshot, she says nothing will be as bad as when her 12-year-old daughter, Kier — who she shares with ex-boyfriend Rob Cristofaro — accidentally discovered the photo a few years ago.
“I guess for a school project she needed a photo of me, and she Googled me, which I should have told her never to do that. And she was basically like, ‘Mom, why do you have a mugshot?’ ” McSweeney says. “So I had to tell her.”
Of course, the apple not falling far from the tree, McSweeney’s daughter wasn’t too bothered.
“She doesn’t think anything of it,” McSweeney says. “She’s like her mom, in that sense. Not much phases us New Yorkers.”
The Real Housewives of New York City airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.