A new field of inquiry: Salahis' polo cup
Couple's problems didn't start with White House dinner

By Neely Tucker and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tareq and Michaele Salahi's signature social event, the annual Land Rover America's Polo Cup, bills itself as the "world's most prestigious and largest . . . charity polo event," benefiting the Salahi-run charity Journey for the Cure. Its next U.S. gala is scheduled for June on the Mall.

The two-day event is to center on a polo match between the United States, for which Tareq Salahi is the captain, and India. General admission tickets start at $25, "Cartier VIP tickets" are $600 to $1,000, and a lifetime membership is on offer for $100,000. The three-year-old polo cup's Web site says it has been "patroned every year by the President of the United States."

But many sponsors listed by America's Cup for 2010 -- including Land Rover, Cartier, the St. Regis Hotel in Washington and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. -- say they are not sponsors for that event. Many vendors in previous years said in interviews that the Salahis have not paid for their services in the event's three-year history, expenses totaling about $500,000. Many have filed lawsuits, and the couple has countersued often. And there is no record of any president attending any of the polo cups.

Tareq Salahi told The Washington Post last year that the 2007 event raised $250,000 for charity and that he hoped to surpass that amount with the next event.

But the Journey for the Cure Foundation -- the event's beneficiary and a federally approved nonprofit 501(c)(3)-- reported that it received $18,608 in 2007, and donated $15,000 to its stated causes in 2007, state financial disclosure forms show. Amounts that low are not subject to detailed federal tax reporting. There is no documentation of any further donations. The foundation failed to register with state regulators for four years, leading the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to warn earlier this year that contributions "to such an organization could be used for non-charitable purposes." The foundation registered two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the foundation says on its Web site that it is an "approved charity with Mission Fish," a nonprofit group that helps foundations raise money on eBay. But a Mission Fish vice president said Journey for the Cure was suspended in October over concerns about irregularities with its tax-reporting status.

The Salahis are shown as the only executives of both America's Polo Cup and the nonprofit foundation. Both list the Salahi home as their business address. Neither the Salahis nor their attorney, Paul W. Gardner, returned phone or e-mail requests for comment for the past two days.

In sum, the portrait of the couple's twin entities is marked by financial disarray, potentially false or misleading claims, broken friendships and bitter court filings. The two ventures -- the centerpiece of the Salahis' public profile and their stated reason for going to the White House state dinner last week -- have left many customers angry at poor service and many business partners furious.

"They had promised two years ago that some of the [British royal family] would be there -- that didn't materialize," Vivian Deuschl, Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman, a 2007 sponsor of the polo cup, said Tuesday. "It's fair to say the event did not live up to its billing."

"I was hired and contracted to secure corporate sponsorship. I worked for seven months, I raised more than $225,000 in cash and products, and I was never paid," said Kate Robbins, the event coordinator for the inaugural America's Polo Cup in 2007. "It's over $100,000. It's been a real hardship for me."

The Post's FW fashion magazine, along with Washingtonian and the Washington Times, are also on a long list of "official sponsors" and "partners" of America's Polo Cup for 2010. Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti said the magazine had never given cash to the Polo Cup and decided after an event in June "not to participate" in the future.

The inception

The Salahis created America's Polo Cup in 2006, and set the first event for spring 2007 at Morven Park in Leesburg. It was to be a swank affair in Virginia horse country, featuring a match between a U.S. team sponsored by Cartier and a British team sponsored by the Ritz-Carlton.

It drew the official support of Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), with 5,000 spectators, as a posh event in the state's year-long commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown Settlement. The Salahis, running the Oasis Winery in Hume, billed the event as a tourism booster and a Journey for the Cure fundraiser.

The foundation was Tareq Salahi's own creation. Press materials said "proceeds" would go to local chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

"The message . . . is curing these illnesses," he said in press materials.

But the British royal family, particularly polo-playing Prince Charles, never attended, as many patrons believed Tareq Salahi had promised. Wine and food disappeared quickly, many patrons complained, and confrontations with vendors followed the event.

In addition to event organizer Robbins, the caterer (Market Salamander) later said it was not paid, and filed a still-unresolved suit for more than $300,000. The company that supplied tents said Tuesday that it was not paid $53,000 due.

"We put together a 16-page advertorial section in the regional edition of Town & Country for the 2007 event," said Mark Manoff, co-owner and vice president of Atlantic Media, a Virginia-based communications firm. "We worked closely with Tareq and Michaele. He collected the money from the advertisers but never paid us."

Manoff said the firm did not pursue the couple because the bill was "$20,000 and just wasn't worth it."

A representative for Journey, which performed at the event, said Tuesday that the band was paid.

J. Christopher Broullire, president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's National Capital Chapter, said Journey for the Cure donated $5,000 to his organization in 2007. He said the foundation also has donated thousands of dollars worth of wine to the society's fundraiser for more than a decade.

Donna McKelvey, executive director of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's National Capital Area Chapter, said it received $5,000 in 2007, too.

"We had no issues," she said. "It was wonderful they asked us to participate the inaugural year."

Documentation issues

But Journey for the Cure, established in January 2004, never registered with Virginia to raise funds, the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services discovered four years later. This led to a year-long dispute with Tareq Salahi about providing documentation, according to Elaine Lidholm, director of communications for the Virginia agency.

"We made multiple attempts to obtain information from them, but they just failed to provide it for months and months," she said.

Salahi, after requesting extensions, finally provided the information Nov. 15, she said, the last day possible.

Stuart Himelfarb, who lives in Hume, near Tareq and Michaele Salahi, is listed as a member of the charity board but said he isn't really involved and is more of a "silent member."

"I don't think it's all that much money," he said when asked about how much Journey for the Cure raised, though he said he wasn't sure. He said several years ago, when his son was very sick with an immune-blood disorder, he got involved in the charity, but he has never seen any financial material.

"I am not privy to it," he said.

Staff writers Chris Richards, Liza Mundy, Mary Pat Flaherty, James V. Grimaldi, Amy Argetsinger, Allison Klein and Warren Brown and researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company