Los Angeles-area real estate magnate Mark Handel was once able to get state legislation specially drafted to suit his developments, persuade the city council to give his projects an interest-free six-figure loan, and to cultivate ties with men who would later represent the region in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.
But according to materials from a forthcoming documentary—which The Daily Beast corroborated through public records research and conversations with San Fernando Valley insiders—Handel, now facing federal fraud and money-laundering charges, maintained a parallel career as one of the most notorious and misogynistic figures in hardcore porn: Khan Tusion.
One of the directors behind the new film revealed to The Daily Beast that he first heard about Handel’s infamous alter ego while working on a movie based on a 2010 murder in the adult industry.
“People would mention this guy ‘Khan Tusion’—they would call him the ‘boogeyman of porn,’ ‘the Freddie Krueger of porn’,” said Lucas Heyne, whose prior film Mope premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019. “He was known for being one of the most verbally abusive and physically abusive porn directors that’s ever existed.”
Handel’s attorney did not answer voicemails or emails for this story, and in a brief phone exchange with The Daily Beast, Handel himself insisted he would speak only through his legal counsel. He did not reply to a subsequent call and text message detailing all the information in this article.
Heyne and his co-director, Sara Gardephe, told The Daily Beast that Handel has been similarly unresponsive to their overtures—though they still hope he will agree to an interview before the film’s planned release next year.
Khan Tusion’s films—which have titles like Rough Sex and Meat Holes—are infamous for their scenes of female performers getting beaten, spat upon, stepped on, and even choked into unconsciousness. Taglines referred to the women he worked with as “jizzmops” and “the nastiest whores who love to be treated like worthless pieces of meat.”
According to stars interviewed for the documentary, titled Pariah after Khan Tusion’s production company, the cruelty and degradation that came from the man behind the camera wasn’t an act.
“Tons of women were abused by this one guy,” actor Taryn Thomas asserts in one clip shared with The Daily Beast, recalling how she agreed to what she believed would only be a rough sex scene in Meat Holes 3. “Nobody told me that I was going to go to a porn set and I’m going to be verbally abused, spit on, have somebody’s foot put on my vagina, OK, or anything to that extent. And I’m going to have to think about the things this douchebag said to me for the rest of my life. No, I shouldn’t have had to put up with that, and that wasn’t in the contract.”
A performer who formerly used the name Regan Starr described to The Daily Beast a Khan Tusion-orchestrated encounter so extreme that its distributor decided to drop the title entirely. Starr said that the director told her only that she would appear in a “rougher sex scene,” and discouraged her from using a “safe word” that an actor can deploy when they want to halt filming.
“He was kind of telling me in his own way, that there wasn’t going to be a safe word, because even if I used it they weren’t going to stop,” said Starr, who became distraught while recalling what happened on set.
In retrospect, Starr said she did not believe Khan Tusion ever told the male actor contracted for the scene that there was a safe word at all—and when she shouted it, in increasing pain from her counterpart’s blows, Khan Tusion kept recording.
“He motioned to the second cameraman, the motion to keep rolling, keep rolling, keep rolling,” she said. “His eyes got really big and he got excited. It was like he was in a trance, a pleasure trance kind of thing. I’d never seen anything like it.”
Finally, as Starr broke down in a panic—fearing, she told The Daily Beast, that she had unwittingly signed up for a snuff film—the scene cut abruptly short. It soon became notorious in the porn world, even as its director denied her version of events in industry publications.
What particularly disturbed and intrigued Heyne, and his co-director Sara Gardephe, about the brutal, menacing director is that he never showed his face and seemed to have labored to conceal his identity.
Besides the pseudonym, Khan Tusion used a voice distorter on film and never let himself be photographed or shown above the shoulders at industry events. In the 2001 British documentary Hardcore, the director forced the filmmaker to keep the camera pointed at his torso, as he insisted he had a “different life” as a “pillar of the community” that he needed to preserve. He claimed he made the videos not for money but to attain a high he described as “better than drugs.”
But Heyne and Gardephe discovered it was an open secret that Khan Tusion was in truth the politically wired property developer Mark Handel, the brother of popular but controversial radio host Bill Handel. Bill Handel told The Daily Beast he is estranged from his brother, and maintained the two have had almost no contact in recent years.
“The thing that first caught my eye was that this guy was just talking to these women for the majority of the videos,” said Gardephe, who previously directed a documentary about incels called Shy Boys: IRL. “We ended up uncovering a completely insane story.”
In the interview with Thomas, the performer identifies a photo of Handel as Khan Tusion. And a transparent paper trail directly connects Handel’s respectable enterprises with Khan Tusion’s empire of humiliation and pain.
Federal records show that the now-defunct trademarks for Khan Tusion’s signature properties, from his production house Pariah Pictures down to titles such as Frank Wank and Piss Mops, all belonged to a company called MNP Enterprises LLC. California incorporation records show that not only did Handel register this entity in his own name, but even used the name and Calabasas address of his real estate firm, MWH Development, on the filing.
Insiders, most of whom requested anonymity to speak freely, described the San Fernando Valley as both the epicenter of the American porn industry and a locus of political power in Southern California. But the two circles rarely overlap, they said, as elected officials find the refracted glare of the set lights unflattering for their public image.
Campaign finance records show Handel poured thousands upon thousands of dollars into the electoral efforts of local politicians—most notably, now-Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-C.A.) and Sen. Alex Padilla (D-C.A.), whom Handel has backed since their days on the Los Angeles City Council. Tight local laws capped donations, but sources told The Daily Beast that Handel served as a liaison for Cardenas to the larger Los Angeles real estate community—allowing him to garner donations from an array of developers.
Handel’s 2020 federal indictment, for allegedly concealing income and business dealings amid bankruptcy proceedings, also asserts he engaged in this kind of activity, though it makes no reference to Cardenas or any other specific official.
“Defendant Handel also solicited large amounts of donations from his business associates and others to be paid to politicians, which defendant Handel described as being a ‘bundler’,” reads the charging document, which could net the mogul a prison sentence of up to 120 years. “Handel did this, at least in part, to benefit his real estate projects by gaining access to and having influence over politicians.”
Public records also show that Handel formed multiple corporate ventures with one of the San Fernando Valley’s most important power brokers—James Acevedo, regarded as the political godfather to both Cardenas and Padilla. Handel’s firm, MWH, would later employ a top aide of Padilla’s from his time as city council president. And Padilla’s protégé, former Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, was the legislator who penned the state bill to allow an embattled MWH project to proceed. Fuentes did not answer requests for comment.
On the city council in the mid-2000s—around the same time as Khan Tusion was cranking out series like Hellfire Sex and Butt-Licking Anal Whores—Cardenas and Padilla helped push through Handel’s real estate projects in their districts, even over local opposition.
Cardenas declined to comment for this story. Padilla and Acevedo did not respond to repeated outreach from The Daily Beast. It is thus impossible to ascertain whether they knew about Handel’s alter ego.
What is certain is that they accepted his support in spite of his highly publicized 1996 arrest in an underage prostitution sting, in which he and another of his business partners—a then-L.A. Building and Safety Commissioner—allegedly paid for oral sex from a 17-year-old girl. Handel was initially found guilty and was sentenced to jail time and probation, although he later got the conviction reversed on appeal.
Another beneficiary of Handel’s political and personal largesse, former city and state lawmaker Richard Alarcon—an ally-turned-enemy of the Acevedo-Cardenas-Padilla organization—maintained he was unaware of Handel’s dual identity until quite recently.
“I had no idea whatsoever, and you know, we worked on housing projects,” Alarcon told The Daily Beast, adding that he regarded the team of lobbyists Handel worked with to advance his developments as “very respectable.”
Alarcon found himself entangled in the most recent, and perhaps most sordid, chapter of Handel’s story, which played out in 2018 and 2019 and which forms a central episode in Pariah.
By then, Cardenas was in the House, Padilla was California’s Secretary of State, and Handel was enmeshed in the bankruptcy case that would ultimately culminate in his arrest. “Khan Tusion,” meanwhile, had mysteriously vanished from the porn world following the 2010 release of Midnight Prowl 17—coinciding with the steep decline of the San Fernando Valley scene during the internet era but also, Heyne noted, with the increasing accessibility of public records online.
But it was at this moment that the sleazy underside of Handel’s life came closest to exposure.
In April 2018, an anonymous plaintiff filed a civil suit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging an unnamed local official had groomed and then groped her as a teenage girl. The complaint was lodged against a “John Doe,” but Cardenas quickly came forward to identify himself as the accused and to deny the allegations. His attorney characterized the claimant as “the daughter of a disgruntled former employee” and a potential “victim of manipulation.”
The case started to fall apart after Alarcon, who had challenged Cardenas for his seat in 2016, revealed that a man he believed to be the father of the accuser had approached him offering dirt on the incumbent in exchange for a job. The plaintiff’s attorney dropped the case in 2019, and she ultimately withdrew the claim. The judge dismissed it with prejudice, meaning it can never be refiled, and Cardenas cheered his “total vindication.”
But there was one detail in the suit that appears to have never been contested, and which Cardenas’s team explicitly declined to address when questioned by The Daily Beast—the accuser asserted that Cardenas had arranged with Handel for her family to relocate from a trailer park to a four-bedroom house the developer owned completely free of charge.
Handel even seemed to confirm the claim to the Los Angeles Times, though he maintained he had put the family in the home to keep it free of squatters ahead of its planned demolition.
The developer’s “nom-de-porn” even featured in a letter the accuser’s attorney penned to the Office of Congressional Ethics.
“Mr. Handel was allegedly also known as ‘Khan Tusion,’ a hardcore porn producer,” the missive reads.
Luckily for Handel, this assertion seemed to get lost in the welter of scandal around the case, and he kept himself out of the headlines until his arrest last year.
He is due to appear in federal court in Los Angeles the morning of Feb. 21, 2023.
But Heyne and Gardephe said they found that the infamy of Khan Tusion’s name, and the aura of fear surrounding it, still lingers in the seamier corners of the Valley.
“People honestly were scared to talk to us. It took a lot of time,” said Gardephe. “Their impression of him was that he was a powerful man, that he had a lot of politicians as friends.”