It's not all glitz and glamour for Virginia socialites Michaele and Tareq Salahi

By Neely Tucker and Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 28, 2009

Before Tareq and Michaele Salahi catapulted to international notoriety as possible White House gate-crashers this week, the Virginia socialites had their pictures taken with President Obama during his inauguration, Prince Charles at a polo match and Oprah Winfrey at another event. They had Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy speak at their elaborate wedding, which more than 1,800 guests attended.

Friends describe the 40-something pair as "fun-loving" and unabashed about pursuing the spotlight and playing the debonair couple who know and are known by all the right people.

But by Friday, Secret Service agents were seen trying to track down the pair to learn how they managed to get into Obama's first state dinner; interviews and court records also show the couple have a far less glamorous side. These documents and statements include dozens of civil suits alleging non-payment for services, a long-running (and very public) feud with Tareq Salahi's parents about ownership and control of their now-idle 108-acre winery and claims the couple made about accomplishments that can't be verified.

Casey Margenau, a McLean-based real estate agent and longtime friend of Tareq Salahi, said he talked with the couple Thursday. He said the investigation was "hard on them," because the couple believed they "really were invited guests."

"There's a video out there of Tareq opening a champagne bottle with a saber," Margenau said. "That's him. That's his personality . . . they've always loved living large, always loved living in the spotlight. They have strong personalities and are very outgoing. Some people like that and some people really dislike it, so much that, well, sometimes people hate you when you're like that."

The circumstances of the state dinner at the White House for the Indian prime minister on Tuesday remain unclear.

On Wednesday, hours before the White House denied that the Salahis were legitimate guests, The Post asked the couple via Facebook how they happened to attend the dinner. Tareq, captain of the America's Cup Polo team, responded: "India is the challenger in the America's Polo Cup World Championships June 11/12 2010, and they are very excited in this first ever cultural connection being hosted on the DC National Mall since Polo is one of the primary sports in India."

When pressed about why they did not appear on the official list, he added, "It was last-minute attending."

Reached on his cell, their attorney, Paul W. Gardner, said, "Okay. No. No. No." and hung up.

Tareq Salahi's stake to local fame and wealth stems from the family winery, Oasis, in Fauquier County. It is one of Virginia's oldest, founded in 1977 by Dirgham and Corinne Salahi. It was known for its sparkling blended wines, and it hosted large social events and provided an attractive tourist destination.

But it had fallen into debt in recent years. It became the subject of ugly local complaints about the disruption that the winery's events caused on narrow back roads. And it devolved into a bitter family squabble pitting parents against son.

The family put it up for sale in 2007, and a year ago it was still on the market for $4.7 million. In February 2009, according to court records, the winery filed for bankruptcy. In a civil suit in Fauquier County Circuit Court last year, Dirgham and Corinne Salahi alleged that Tareq had interfered with the winery's sale.

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