Beauty pageant wins $5 mln over U.S. contestant's rigging claim

Tue Dec 18, 2012 3:23pm EST

Dec 18 (Reuters) - Donald Trump's Miss Universe beauty pageant won $5 million in damages in a defamation suit against a former beauty queen who claimed the Miss USA pageant was rigged, the organization hosting the competition said on Tuesday.

The Miss Universe company, which runs the Miss USA pageant, sued former contestant Sheena Monnin for defamation after Monnin wrote in a Facebook post in June that a fellow contestant claimed to have seen a list of the pageant's top five winners before the contest had begun.

Monnin resigned as Miss Pennsylvania in June, stating in a Facebook post that "I witnessed another contestant who said she saw the list of the top 5 before the show ever started (to) proceed."

"I knew the show must be rigged. ... and from what I witnessed is dishonest," Monnin added.

The winner of the Miss USA pageant goes on to represent the nation in the Miss Universe competition.

An arbitrator assigned to the court case in New York ruled that Monnin acted with "actual malice" in claiming the pageant's winner was predetermined.

"Monnin claimed the pageant was rigged within minutes of being passed over as one of the sixteen semi-finalists, and before she had any purported factual basis for her allegation of rigging," arbitrator Theodore H. Katz wrote in the ruling.

Katz also noted that Monnin had claimed in an email before the pageant that she thought the Miss USA contest was a fake.

Monnin repeated her accusations on NBC's "Today" show following her resignation, drawing the ire of Trump, who said he would sue Monnin and suggested she was a poor loser.

Miss Florida contestant Karina Brez said she only made a joke in passing to Monnin that the pageant was rigged.

The Miss Universe contest will crown this year's winner on Wednesday in Las Vegas on television broadcaster NBC, which also broadcasts the Miss USA contest.

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