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Miss USA program under investigation after contestants claim pageant was rigged

<i>Rachel Jackson/RGJ/USA Today Network</i><br/>The Miss Universe Organization has suspended Miss USA President Crystle Stewart and her company
Rachel Jackson/RGJ / USA TODAY N
Rachel Jackson/RGJ/USA Today Network
The Miss Universe Organization has suspended Miss USA President Crystle Stewart and her company

By Amanda Musa and Jennifer Henderson, CNN

The Miss Universe Organization has suspended Miss USA President Crystle Stewart and her company, Miss Brand Corporation, pending an independent investigation into allegations that the 2022 Miss USA pageant was rigged.

“After thorough deliberation, Miss Universe Organization has decided to suspend Miss Brand immediately,” the Miss Universe Organization said in a statement to CNN. “Miss Universe Organization will be taking over the Miss USA program while a comprehensive, third-party investigation is conducted.”

In a statement to CNN Wednesday, Stewart said she is cooperating with the investigation but denied any claims that the pageant was rigged.

“The current allegations that the 2022 Miss USA pageant was in favor of one contestant over another are misleading and simply not factual,” Stewart said in a statement. “The last thing I would ever want to do is discredit or deny the contestants an equal opportunity to a fair competition. I would never jeopardize my dream of running an organization that empowers these young women.”

Following the Oct. 3 pageant, several Miss USA contestants have taken to social media to question if there was favoritism that led to Miss USA 2022 R’Bonney Gabriel’s win.

Miss Montana USA Heather Lee O’Keefe has been one of the most vocal Miss USA contestants saying in a TikTok video the “drama” all started when a major pageant sponsor posted a video of Gabriel at a luxury spa owned by the sponsor hours after Gabriel won.

In an interview with E! News, Gabriel said the spa was a sponsor of Miss Texas USA and that after she was crowned Miss Texas, she paid her own way to visit the spa and shot a video there.

O’Keefe said there is also a photo of the pageant owner doing Gabriel’s hair, citing it as an example of alleged favoritism for Gabriel. Gabriel said this photo was taken after she won Miss USA, not before the pageant.

Gabriel told E!, “I want to start by saying it was not rigged because I would never enter any pageant or any competition that I know I would win. I have a lot of integrity.”

“We really can’t blame this girl and it’s really sad because her performance was amazing and she probably could have won fair and square,” O’Keefe also said in a TikTok video. “The issue is not with Miss Texas or R’Bonney winning. The issue is with the alleged corruption of the Miss USA organization.”

CNN has reached out to O’Keefe for comment but has not received a response.

When asked if she had spoken to Miss Montana USA, Gabriel told E!, “I haven’t gotten the chance to talk to her about it. And I think I’m open to talking to her about it. I would love to communicate with her because I think there’s a lot of allegations that are coming up that aren’t true.”

“I will talk to anybody because I want to be transparent, and I want everybody to know that there was no unfair advantage and nothing was rigged and as a title holder and as Miss USA I don’t want girls to think that this is how pageantry works. this is to celebrate women. we work very hard, and I have respect for all the women that showed up on that stage,” Gabriel added.

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