Former Miss Pennsylvania Sheena Monnin, who resigned after alleging that the Miss USA contest had been fixed, says she is stunned by a ruling that she must pay the pageant organization $5 million for defamation.
Sheena Monnin said that the “most logical course” would be to contest the arbitrator’s ruling but she is considering her options.
Arbitrator Theodore Katz says Sheena Monnin’s allegations that finalists had been selected in advance were false, harmful and malicious and cost the pageant, owned by billionaire Donald Trump, a $5 million fee from a potential 2013 sponsor.
Sheena Monnin points to a Miss USA contract clause giving top pageant officials the power to pick the top five finalists and the winner, but a company official calls that a catch-all that’s never been used.
Earlier this month, Donald Trump was victorious in a lawsuit he filed against Sheena Monnin, who called the Miss USA pageant “fixed” and “trashy” after she failed to make the semifinals of the beauty contest this summer.
The eventual winner of Miss USA, Olivia Culpo, beat 88 other beauty queens on December 20 to take the Miss Universe title from Leila Lopes of Angola at the Planet Hollywood casino in Las Vegas.
Donald Trump, co-owner of the Miss Universe Organization, sued Sheena Monnin for defamation after she alleged in June that a fellow contestant in the competition had seen a list of the top five winners before the finalists were named on stage.
A U.S. District Court Magistrate ruled in favor of the Miss Universe Organization, awarding it $5 million in damages and stated Sheena Monnin’s statements “showed a reckless disregard”.
Sheena Monnin accused Miss Universe Organization of rigging the competition when she resigned from her position in mid June.
She claimed Karina Brez, who was representing Florida at the contest in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 3, recited the top five women after seeing a list of their names backstage.
In a Facebook post announcing her resignation, Sheena Monnin wrote: “Apparently the morning of June 3rd [Karina Brez] saw a folder lying open to a page that said <<FINAL SHOW Telecast, June 3, 2012>> and she saw the places for Top 5 already filled in.
“After the Top 16 were called and we were standing backstage she hesitantly said to me and another contestant that she knew who the Top 5 were. I said ‘who do you think they will be?”
She said that she didn’t “think” she “knew” because she saw the list that morning.
“She relayed whose names were on the list. Then we agreed to wait and see if that was indeed the Top 5 called that night. After it was indeed the Top 5 I knew the show must be rigged.”
Miss Universe Organization vehemently denied the claims and said that Sheena Monnin had cited the new rules allowing transgender contestants as her reason for resigning.
Donald Trump also denied the claims and proceeded with the lawsuit against Sheena Monnin, who he believed was suffering “loser’s remorse”.
“I did see her for about a second. I never felt that she had a chance,” Donald Trump told the Today show over the summer.
“I know what I heard, and I know what I in turn witnessed… so I’m prepared to continue to march forward,” Sheena Monnin responded on Today.
“I feel an injustice has been done, not only to the other people who were not in the top five, but to the thousands of pageant girls across the country who competed, believing this is an honest system.”
But Karina Brez has also come forward to deny she made the claims seriously.
“Backstage during the pageant, I did see a piece of paper with names on it and like most people in such frenetic circumstances, joked that they must be the names of the final contestants,” she said.
“It was a throwaway comment, in the stress of the pageant, and was never meant as fact. The list I saw didn’t even have the eventual winner on it.”
Sheena Monnin told Today she believes Karina Brez changed her story out of fear.
“She looked a little bit scared because she had just seen something that would potentially, drastically change the reputation of the Miss Universe Organization,” she said.
“This is a big deal.”
The latest accuser, who was not identified, said Karina Brez had appeared “very, very flustered and upset” as the top 15 girls were announced.
“I thought it might be because she didn’t make the top 15 cut, but at that point she was able to reveal to me at least four of the five names who went on to be the top girls,” the contestant told FOX News.
“She couldn’t remember the fifth because she was so upset. Several of the girls then started hearing through the grapevine about a list; a lot of people were upset.”
“A lot of the girls now are very upset about how Pennsylvania is being treated and aggressively attacked by an organization that claims to empower women,” Sheena Monnin said.
The top 15 girls are decided by preliminary judging in the days before the broadcast, and fan voting determines the 16th. The top ten, top five and winner are decided in the live show, a rep said.
The scores for the competition are believed to be entered into a computer system as the show is live. These results are monitored and verified by Ernst & Young.
“In accordance with the rules of the competition, Ernst & Young’s tabulation of the judges’ votes which determined the final five contestants did not occur until after the evening gown competition had been completed,” a representative said.
Judge Joe Jonas tweeted after the accusations: “All I can say… Is the Miss USA competition was NOT rigged. Miss [Rhode Island] USA won fair and square.”
The pageant named Olivia Culpo, a 20-year-old cellist, the winner after she made it clear that she embraced all beauty queens – transgender or otherwise – during the interview portion.
In the dreaded final question round, Olivia Culpo was faced with the most difficult question of the night: “Would it be fair for a person born a man to be named Miss Universe after becoming a woman?”
Olivia Culpo never stumbled as she embraced the Miss Universe Organization’s recent decision to admit transgender contestants.
“I do think that would be fair,” she said.
“But I could understand how people could be apprehensive to take that road.”
It is an opinion that Sheena Monnin does not share. In her resignation email, she wrote: “I refuse to be part of a pageant system that has so far and so completely removed itself from its foundational principles as to allow and support natural born males to compete in it.
“This goes against ever moral fiber of my being. I believe in integrity, high moral character, and fair play, none of which are part of this system any longer.”