Beauty queens who've courted controversy

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For all the elegance and grace that beauty pageant contestants possess, there can also be an uglier side — a side that involves police, jail, courtrooms or scandal. To mark the 71st Miss Universe competition, which takes place in New Orleans on Jan. 14, 2023, Wonderwall.com is rounding up some of the beauty queens who fought the law or a nasty scandal and lost…

Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih was the epitome of class when she won the crown and was praised for being down-to-earth. (Asked how she felt about winning, the Michigan native responded, “Ask me after I’ve had a pizza.”) She also made headlines for being the first Arab American victor. (She was also the first Muslim to be crowned, but some Muslims argued she didn’t adhere to the faith’s tenants because she wore a bikini on stage.) Shortly after finishing her reign, Rima was arrested for suspicion of DUI in Michigan in December 2011. After news outlets started reporting the arrest, Rima tried to deny it, tweeting, “Let’s clear things up now…. I’m NOT in Michigan and I’m NOT in jail! Wrong Fakih.” Turns out, it was the right Fakih. These days, Rima is married to music executive Wassim Slaiby. The couple live in Los Angeles with their three children.

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Stormy Keffeler — Miss Washington USA 2016 — was a crowd favorite. But before she could compete in Miss USA, she had to resign after it was revealed that she got a DUI (at the time of her arrest, her blood alcohol concentration was nearly three times the legal limit) a few months prior to the Miss Washington competition — something she failed to disclose to pageant officials. Stormy was sentenced five days after she won the state crown. Around the same time that she resigned, she was also under investigation for stabbing her now-ex, Major League Soccer player Marco Pappa. On Dec. 17, 2015, Marco was stabbed on his left side. Stormy was with him at the time and police reportedly found a bloody kitchen knife and blood on her hands. The beauty queen changed the story she told police several times — once admitting she’d been present during the stabbing then denying it at another time. Marco was uncooperative and changed his story too. In April 2016, Seattle police said they would not charge Stormy.

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Katie Rees has built up quite the rap sheet since being crowned Miss Nevada USA 2007. Her reign was actually controversial from the get-go due to nude pictures of her that surfaced shortly after her win. In February 2008, she was charged with resisting arrest during a traffic stop. She pleaded guilty to a drug charge in 2012 and was also arrested for allegedly trafficking methamphetamine in 2015.

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Vanessa Williams made history in 1983 as the first African American Miss America, but her reign didn’t last long. After naked photos of the star surfaced in Penthouse magazine, she had her crown stripped. But Vanessa would have the last laugh — she went on to become a hugely successful singer and actress.

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Alicia Machado, a beauty queen from Venezuela, won the 1996 Miss Universe Crown. During her reign, she found herself in the spotlight for an uncomfortable reason — weight gain. The beauty queen later opened up about the eating disorder she suffered from while competing, which resulted in her unnatural 116 pound weight at the time of her win. The press unfortunately obsessed over her larger frame and comments made by then-executive producer of the pageant, Donald Trump, fanned the flames (he told Howard Stern that Alicia was an “eating machine”). But Alicia got a happy ending. She later found fame on Latin American telenovelas and campaigned alongside Hillary Clinton against Donald during the 2016 presidential election.

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Back in 1973, a then-19-year-old Marjorie Wallace took home the top prize at the Miss United States pageant. But her dating life would be her downfall, as conservative pageant officials later took back her crown. Her offense? Dating two men at once! Marjorie, who went on to win Miss World, was photographed kissing Welsh pop star Tom Jones while she was engaged to race car driver Peter Revson. Contest officials claimed Marjorie “had failed to fulfill the basic requirements of the job” and violated her Miss World contract with the affair. Marjorie found work in Hollywood and turned things around, becoming one of the first anchors on “Entertainment Tonight” in 1981.

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Carrie Prejean courted controversy not once but twice! The Californian competed in the 2009 Miss USA Pageant and came in as the first runner-up, but her answer to a question about same-sex marriage eclipsed her near-win. When asked how she felt about gay marriage, Carrie responded, “I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman.” Her answer incited rage, and Miss California USA officials reportedly pressured her to apologize. Unfortunately, that wasn’t her only scandal — photos that showed her partially nude were later leaked, resulting in pageant organizers taking away her crown. She sued Miss California USA officials in August 2009, eventually settling later that year. Carrie went on to write the memoir “Still Standing: The Untold Story of My Fight Against Gossip, Hate and Political Attacks.” These days, the former beauty queen is married to former NFL quarterback Kyle Boller, with whom she shares two children. They live in San Diego, where Carrie continues to be active in politics: She made headlines in 2021 when she spoke out against mandatory masking of children at an Encinitas school board meeting.

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Christen McAllister felt a little too hot for her own good in February 2017. The finalist for Miss Kentucky USA was arrested on one count of arson after she allegedly set her roommate’s bed on fire during an argument. No one was injured. Arrest records show that she confessed to it. Two years later, Christen appeared on season 1 of the American version of “Love Island,” which was set in Hawaii.

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Vanessa Barcelo won the Miss Miami Lakes USA pageant in April 2016 and vied to become Miss Florida. She didn’t win that title or get the glory, but her name ended up in the headlines a few months later. According to reports out of Miami, Vanessa got very intoxicated during a Christmas party at her home and told a guest to leave. As he was leaving, she grabbed a metal baseball bat and started pushing him toward the exit. As he neared the sidewalk, she allegedly used the bat to hit him on the shoulder. She then allegedly punched him in the face. She was taken to jail and booked on aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery and battery charges. In July 2017, a judge ruled that Vanessa acted in self-defense under Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law and dropped the charges against her. Vanessa got a sweet ending — she appeared on Netflix’s “Baking Impossible” and now works as a professional baker who makes custom cakes, according to her Instagram.

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A $200 pair of headphones put a cloud over Lu Parker, 1994 Miss USA. The one-time beauty queen and current Los Angeles news anchor was busted on Nov. 2, 2016, at LAX Airport after allegedly stealing a pair of headphones from a passenger-screening area. The headphones belonged to a Los Angeles police detective. She said the whole thing was a misunderstanding and her news station, KTLA, agreed. It was reported in December 2016 that the theft charges would be dropped after she completed a diversion program for people accused of petty crimes.

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Brittany “Nikki” Poteet, Miss Virginia USA 2011, can’t quite stay out of trouble. Controversy first found her in 2011 during her reign when a gay roommate claimed she used homophobic slurs, which Nikki denied. Then in 2013, she was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery after a fight with her then-boyfriend. Charges in the 2013 case were eventually dropped when the boyfriend said he couldn’t remember what happened. Nikki reportedly moved to Australia in 2014 where she continued to find herself in hot water. In 2017, she was charged in an Australian court with assaulting her boyfriend. And in 2020, she once again found herself in an Australian court, this time charged with allegedly repeatedly punching a former fiancé and whipping him with a dog leash.

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Another early scandal? Back in July 1957, a young lady from Maryland named Leona Gage was crowned Miss USA — but her reign didn’t last long! Her crown was taken away 24 hours later after officials learned she had lied about her age and personal life. Leona said she was 18 when she was really 21. She’d also been divorced and remarried and had two children she neglected to mention. Oops! She passed away in 2010 at 71.

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Tia Shorts was crowned Miss Maryland USA in 2004 and was even named Miss Congeniality by her fellow beauty queens during the Miss USA pageant. Five years later, she was arrested for being a part of a drug ring. Officers had been monitoring an apartment in central Maryland for potential drug activity and once they entered, they found Tia as well as drugs, guns and ammunition. Police later discovered that Tia and her boyfriend were dealing drugs, including heroin and cocaine, from the apartment. She pled guilty to drug charges in 2009.

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Miss Texas Teen USA 2016 Karlie Hay made waves when some of her controversial old tweets surfaced. The 18-year-old reportedly tweeted racial slurs prior to winning Miss Teen USA, but the Miss Universe Organization allowed her to keep her crown. Though they were upset with what they saw, the organization claimed it would support “her continued growth.” For her part, Karlie tweeted an apology for her words and stated she was “not proud of” what she’d written and insisted that there was “no excuse for” her behavior.

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Here’s one you didn’t see coming. Bess Myerson won the Miss America pageant in 1945. In 1988, as a 68-year-old woman, she was arrested in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, after she allegedly shoplifted $44 in merchandise. The New York Times reported that she had six bottles of nail polish, five pairs of earrings, a pair of shoes and several packages of flashlight batteries in her purse when she was stopped by security guards. The New York Daily News reported that she was busted for shoplifting in London in 1970 too. Her name appearing in the newspaper was nothing new, though. The tabloids were sent into overdrive in 1987 when she was indicted on charges that she conspired with her boyfriend and a judge to cut support payments to the boyfriend’s estranged wife. She and all parties were ultimately acquitted. Bess died in 2014 at 90.

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You can’t talk about beauty queen scandals without mentioning Tara Conner! The 2006 Miss USA winner followed up her win with reports of drug and alcohol abuse and other controversial behavior, including kissing Miss Teen USA Katie Blair in public. After testing positive for cocaine during her reign, most assumed Tara would be stripped of her title. But Tara was given a second chance, as long as she agreed to go to rehab. She’s since worked as an advocate for addiction recovery.

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Miss Louisiana Teen USA 2008 Lindsey Evans (right) lost her title thanks to a dine-and-dash incident. Yep, the teen was stripped of her title in 2008 after she and some friends tried to ditch the bill at a restaurant in their native Louisiana. During the incident, Lindsey made one major mistake — leaving behind her purse. Not only was she identified, but it also contained some marijuana. When she went back to retrieve her bag, cops busted her. She was immediately relieved of her Miss Louisiana Teen USA duties.

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Cheater, cheater? Miss Nevada Nia Sanchez took top prize at the Miss USA Competition in 2014, but a scandal erupted shortly after. It was revealed that Nia might actually have lived in California, not Nevada, and faked her residency to avoid the beauty queen competition in her home state. It was also revealed that she’d lost out in the Miss California USA pageant three times prior to her run for Miss Nevada, raising more eyebrows. Fortunately for Nia, she got to keep her crown. She wed actor Daniel Booko in 2015 and welcomed a son in 2021.

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Miss New Hampshire USA 2010 Nicole Houde was a real knockout in every sense of the word. In April 2012, she was arrested for assaulting her boyfriend. Police said she punched, bit and scratched him during an argument. The fight began after the boyfriend accused her of cheating on him and took her phone away. They split up but Nicole then got with another man and history basically repeated itself. She was arrested in June the same year for allegedly assaulting that boyfriend — her second arrest in three months.

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Daniela Gaskie was Miss Kentucky Latina in 2010, but then rage got the better of her and she was stripped of her crown. The young beauty was arrested in 2010 after allegedly stabbing a gas station attendant in the neck with a pen. She was also reportedly intoxicated and carrying a firearm at the time. Daniela was charged with assault, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. She accepted a plea deal and was banned from legally possessing firearms for two years and was also ordered to receive psychiatric treatment and to hand over her pistol permit. She later tried to become a police officer in Alabama to no avail.

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This beauty queen went to court for her crown! Kristhielee Caride, the winner of Miss Puerto Rico Universe, lost her crown a few months into her reign in March 2016. The reason? She had an attitude problem that stemmed from some interviews she gave in which she complained about being on camera. Kristhielee took it to court in an attempt to regain her crown and title and lost. A judge ruled against her claim in September 2016.

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In May 2017, police arrested paralegal Carmen Ponder, who was named Miss Black Texas 2016, and charged her with evading arrest following a road-rage incident involving the beauty queen and a local police chief, who was allegedly teaching his 14-year-old daughter how to drive when he encountered Carmen on the road. According to Carmen, she exchanged words with the man, who hurled a racist expletive at her, in a parking lot as she headed into a store. She claims that when she came back out, a plainclothes officer warned her to apologize and that when she refused, the officer grabbed her arm and detained her. But Carmen later admitted that the police chief she accused of being involved in the road-rage incident might not have been the other driver after all. In June, an independent investigation cleared the police chief of the allegations against him.

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In August 2017, a jury found Jennifer Kline, who was named Mrs. America in 1989, guilty of felony theft by swindle. She reportedly cheated Macy’s out of more than $5,000 by buying clothes on her credit card and then removing the tags and putting them on clothes she already owned, which she then returned to the department store for a refund. A store detective reportedly caught on to the scheme and reported the former beauty queen to the police. “Several of the clothing items returned to Macy’s were dirty and showed signs of wear,” an investigator wrote in a 2015 complaint against Jennifer, per the New York Daily News.

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In May 2017, officers arrested Miss Kentucky USA 2011 Kia Hampton for trying to smuggle 2.82 grams of marijuana into an Ohio prison, which is a third-degree felony charge. According to reports, the Ohio State Highway Patrol were tipped off to the beauty queen’s alleged plans to pass off drugs to an inmate while listening to recorded phone calls, which allowed them to obtain a warrant to do a cavity search.

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In late 2008, Mexican beauty queen Laura Zuniga, who’d been named Miss Sinaloa earlier that year, was arrested in Jalisco, Mexico, along with seven suspected gang members in a truck filled with guns, ammunition and around $100K in cash. According to the Los Angeles Times, Laura told police that she and the men were on their way to Bolivia and Colombia to go shopping. She later claimed to be kidnapped by her boyfriend, who she explained was a leader of the Juarez cartel. She was stripped of her title but later, a judge found there wasn’t any evidence to tie her to criminal activity.

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In January 2017, police arrested former Mrs. Bergen County Soneca Guadara and charged her with maintaining a nuisance and leaving property in custody of another where alcohol was being served to minors after her college-aged daughter threw a party at their New Jersey home. According to the New York Post, officers responded to a call regarding an “intoxicated, possibly unconscious, juvenile” near the beauty queen’s house. Police reportedly found nine more minors (and alcohol) on the property. It’s unclear whether or not Soneca was present at the time of the underage bash.




























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