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Former Miss Pennsylvania must pay Donald Trump $5 million, arbiter rules

| Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 12:26 p.m.
In this photo provided by the Miss Universe Organization, former Miss Pennsylvania Sheena Monnin of Cranberry competes during the 2012 Miss USA show on May 30 in Las Vegas. Monnin resigned her crown in June, claiming the Miss USA contest is rigged. An arbitrator ruled she must pay billionaire Donald Trump, the pageant's owner, $5 million for defaming the Miss Universe Organization. AP Photo/Miss Universe Organization | Darren Decker
Sheena Monnin during Light Up the Night â?? Bethlehem Haven at Guardian Storage on Friday, April 27, 2012. Mike Mancini | For the Tribune Review

A former Miss Pennsylvania USA 2012, who claimed a pageant was rigged, must pay billionaire Donald Trump $5 million for defaming the Miss Universe Organization, a New York arbitrator ruled.

Sheena Monnin, 27, of Cranberry in June resigned the state crown she won in December 2011. She accused Trump, the Miss USA Pageant's owner, of fixing the competition held in May in Las Vegas. Monnin claimed another contestant told her that she spotted a list of five finalists before the Top 15 selection began.

The raven-haired beauty queen then took to her Facebook page, calling the pageant “fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent and in many ways trashy.”

The arbitrator, former U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz, said Monnin's statements were false and “showed a reckless disregard” for the truth.

Monnin, who did not participate in the arbitration, could not be reached for comment. Her lawyer, Richard Klineburger of Philadelphia, did not return calls.

Katz said in a decision signed last week that the method for judging the pageant “precludes any reasonable possibility that the judging was rigged.” He said Monnin was disgruntled about not making it past preliminary rounds and objected to the pageant's decision to allow transgender contestants.

According to Katz, Monnin's allegations on Facebook and NBC's “Today” show cost the pageant a $5 million fee from a potential 2013 sponsor. However, Katz did not require Monnin to remove the online comments and found no evidence that she deliberately tried to destroy the pageant.

Albert Bates, an arbitrator and partner at the Downtown law firm Duane Morris, said it's difficult to vacate an arbitration award, because nearly all of the limited grounds to do so require proving fraud or corruption by the arbitrator.

“It is a binding process,” Bates said.

Randy Sanders, director of the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, was Monnin's manager from December 2011 until she resigned and said he hasn't spoken to her since. Sanders said Monnin insulted everyone involved with the pageant.

“She was accusing every one of those people of going along with something. We're talking about hundreds and hundreds of employees. She was taking a swipe at all of them, including me,” Sanders said. “It was insulting.”

Trump, in a statement, called Monnin's actions “disgraceful.” The New York tycoon known nationally from his NBC television show “The Apprentice,” suggested she fabricated the story because of “loser's remorse.” Miss Rhode Island Olivia Culpo won the Miss USA title.

“While I feel very badly for Sheena, she did the wrong thing. She was really nasty, and we had no choice. It is an expensive lesson for her,” Trump said.

Paula Shugart, president of Miss Universe Organization, said she is pleased the integrity of the pageant remains intact.

“Ms. Monnin could have avoided all of this had she chosen to act responsibly, rather than seeking her 15 minutes of fame. Her reckless actions affected many people,” Shugart said.

Sanders said he's glad to live in a country where people can speak freely, but “you have to be selective in how much you excercise that right. You have to have your facts in order. I think this decision verifies that.”

The Associated Press contributed. Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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