The Party Crashers: A look at Tareq and Michaele Salahi before they were famous

Highlights of the lives and careers of Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the couple who attended last the White House state dinner, held last month in Washington, without an invitation.
By Liza Mundy, Amy Argetsinger and Ian Shapira
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

All the unmarried men at the party wanted to know who the tall blond woman was. She was striking and effervescent, unknown and intriguing: She wasn't overexposed, hadn't been seen at a lot of social events. But Casey Margenau, hosting his 2000 Christmas party, didn't have much to tell the men who kept pumping him for information. He knew Michaele Holt socially, knew she didn't have a high-powered job or inherited wealth.

Instead, she was "just beautiful and had a great personality and was lots of fun and was hard to get," says Margenau.

And one of the men responding to her siren song was Tareq Salahi, he recalls.

Salahi was more of a known quantity on the Northern Virginia party circuit. He'd grown up in Fauquier County; his parents were vintners and he'd gone to college to study winemaking, returning with plans to not only take over the family business but make the Virginia wine industry more high-profile, with more events and entertainment. He was a flamboyant man with a proven pull over women. Still, Margenau told him he didn't stand a chance with this one.

At that, Tareq Salahi began pursuing Michaele Holt so single-mindedly that she would eventually marry him, setting off a high-drama marital narrative that would lead to a walk into a White House state dinner, a congressional summons, a string of angry creditors and -- less publicly -- the destruction of the Salahi family business.

The dynamics of a marriage are often a mystery to outsiders. But it appears that rather than curbing each other's excesses, Tareq and Michaele Salahi indulge and enlarge them. "Everyone thinks that these two have an alchemy together," says Ted Latimer, an interior designer from the Middleburg area who has run across them socially.

The question that lingers is: Was one the driving force?

"Tareq is the instigator," says Pamela Vito, who co-owns a bridal boutique in Alexandria, has long known the Salahi family and says she was involved in a payment dispute with Tareq that was resolved in her favor. "Michaele, she got caught up in it."

Tareq Salahi's mother, Corinne, wonders about Michaele's role.

"I certainly would be interested in my daughter-in-law's biography," says Corinne Salahi. "I have no idea who she is, or where she came from. . . . But now, I wish I knew it."

Missy's simple roots

By the time she met Tareq, Michaele was transformed from what one family acquaintance described as a pretty but nondescript girl called Missy.

"She's just a nice girl from a simple family," says her mother, Rosemary Holt, originally from Scranton, Pa. Michaele is one of four siblings -- she has two brothers and a sister -- and grew up, her mother says, mostly in Florida, where she went to Catholic school. Her father, Howard Holt, now deceased, was described by a knowledgeable family acquaintance as a salesman for a printing company, an assertion that could not be confirmed. When the family moved to Northern Virginia, Missy Holt attended Oakton High School in Fairfax County, graduating in 1984. Her senior yearbook photo shows a young woman with long, brunette hair whose hope was to be a model and move to California.

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