Pageant winner considering lawsuit against pageant organization for not receiving scholarship

Posted at 8:58 AM, Sep 19, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - — Neli Hernandez teaches dance classes at Club Pura Vida Dance Fitness every day.

Her parents opened the South Omaha business a few years ago.

Earlier this year, Hernandez decided she wanted to start college.

She planned to pay for school using a $3,000 scholarship she earned after winning the National Miss Cover Girl pageant in Las Vegas in 2016.

"It was like my motive of participating, to win the scholarship money," she said.

Hernandez tells us she contacted the pageant's national director, Rafael Hernandez, back in February to receive her scholarship.

"That was February 7 to be exact," Hernandez said. "After that he just opened it and didn't respond, I don't think he was even planning to respond."

Hernandez says she sent him another message in March.

"When I saw that he opened it, I was like if you don't respond to me I'm going to go public about this and I'll follow through with a lawsuit," Hernandez said.

She posted her story on Facebook and found several girls who also competed in the same pageant, didn't receive their scholarship money either.

"I thought that was really insane that they were doing that to so many girls," Hernandez said.

Aguayo says the pageant simply ran out of money.

"We are borrowing money (like personal money) to pay these funds, the organization doesn't have any money," Aguayo said. "That doesn't mean that this is a fraud, we recognize that we have to pay this and we are facing it, this is just a matter of timing," he said. "She took 3 years to claim this scholarship, we need time to pay this scholarship."

Hernandez also says, the local pageant director told her she had no right to the scholarship because she waited 3 years to begin school.

But according to her contract, there isn't a time limit to claim the scholarship.

"I won it fair and square and I should have the right to claim something that I won, and that's on a contract," Hernandez said.

Aguayo says the organization changed its rules in 2017.

He tells us, now girls only have 6 months after the day they graduate high school to claim their scholarship.

This year's pageant has since been canceled.

"We don't want to take the risk," he said. "We just want to pay everything we promised, and that's where we're going to finish this."

He says the organization owes about $15,000 dollars to 5-6 former competitors.

The pageant, which operates as a 501c(3) organization applied for grants and private funding, which Aguayo says it didn't receive.

He says all costs came out of pocket.

"Our investment was big so they can get the best experience," he said.

But Hernandez says, her experience has been tainted.

She has some advice for girls who are considering competing in a pageant.

"There's pageants that have been going on for decades and I think that matters a lot," she said. "Like how much time they have , their winners ... see if there's any bad reviews [or] any stuff like that. "So I would just really my research on the history of the pageant."

Aguayo says he's reached out to Hernandez and offered to give her $1,500 immediately and the other half next month.

He also says he plans to pay the rest of the girls by the end of October.