Wrong woman given Miss Hispanidad title, pageant leaders say Miscounted votes blamed

another crowning set amid talk of legal action

January 30, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Organizers of the fourth annual Miss Hispanidad pageant -- a showcase for the Baltimore area's growing Hispanic community -- said yesterday that they miscounted ballots and awarded this year's title to the wrong woman.

Ilia Velez, a Penn State senior from Columbia, should have won, but at the awards ceremony in August, Howard Community College student Maria Milagros Lagares was crowned.

Ms. Lagares will be permitted to keep the winner's prizes, including a $1,000 scholarship, both she and organizers said. Ms. Velez also will receive the scholarship and be crowned Miss Hispanidad at an event "sometime soon," said Carmen Nieves, president of the Federation of Hispanic Organizations, which sponsors the pageant.

But Ms. Velez's family still is angry about the mistake, and has not ruled out legal action. At a federation meeting Saturday at the Patterson Park library branch, Ms. Velez addressed federation members and demanded that she be compensated for her and her family's "suffering," according to several people in attendance.

"We will see what happens," Maria Velez, Ilia's mother, said yesterday. "I am too upset about what is going on to talk much about it."

The counting errors resulted from confusion on the part of the five judges over how to score the 11-contestant pageant, and were not intentional, organizers said. The contest started with judges' interviews of the contestants at Martin's West, followed by a beauty contest during the Hispanic festival at Hopkins Plaza.

After Ms. Velez's speech Saturday, members debated the issue in a meeting so heated that, as attendees filed out, one member threw -- but did not land -- a punch at another before they were separated, according to witnesses.

Yesterday, federation members and Maria Velez said they still had hopes of reaching a negotiated settlement.

"We are in the process of figuring out how to compensate the winner," Ms. Nieves said. She would not say whether the federation has hired a lawyer, but added, "We're not going to be in litigation with someone who's representing us."

Both Ms. Lagares and Ms. Velez, who are friends, have worked to organize the federation-sponsored Young Hispanic Adult Leadership Conference scheduled Thursday at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

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