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The Party Crashers: A look at Tareq and Michaele Salahi before they were famous
The winery also proved a setting for an idyllic childhood. Located in Hume, in the rolling Piedmont countryside, it served as the weekend getaway for many boarding students at Randolph-Macon Academy, the military school Tareq attended as a day student. Otto Hoernig III was one of the lucky boarders invited over. "The vineyard was a playground for us. And Tareq had his own private residence [an apartment on the grounds] and we all could stay there on the couches and bed," recalls Hoernig, now a defense contractor.
Another classmate, Scott Harwood Jr., now an insurance agent in Farmville, Va., says Tareq got decent grades, was funny and well-liked, especially among the school's administration, which appointed him a squadron leader. "I was in a group that was into breaking the rules, sneaking off and partying, and he wasn't really much with that crowd at all. He was kind of a straight arrow," Harwood says.
While most of their classmates had little idea what they were going to do in life, Hoernig says, Tareq had always been enthusiastic about running Oasis one day. After high school, Tareq graduated from the University of California at Davis, where he studied oenology and business marketing management. His ambition to operate Oasis, Hoernig recalls, was nurtured by close bonds with his parents. "They got along very well," Hoernig says.
In 2002, Arlie Morgan was working as a promotional model at an event in the D.C. convention center, scrambling an egg-white product on behalf of the company that made it, when she heard a familiar voice calling, "Hellooooooo, friend!" She looked over to see Michaele Holt wearing a blue spandex leotard, hawking an exercise DVD. Even as she was beginning her ascent into high society, traveling with Tareq to places like Rio and London, Michaele found the time to take small modeling jobs.
The wedding was scheduled for that year but delayed, apparently more than once. Hoernig recalls traveling to Las Vegas for a bachelor party and learning either just before or en route that the ceremony had been postponed. Harshman attributed the delay to Michaele's ambivalence. "I don't think she was in love with Tareq. It was the flashy stuff. Ever since I've known her she's wanted to be this flashy person. He bought a yacht, fancy car."
Yet he was not always willing to indulge her when it came to expenses. In an e-mail addressed to "all Wedding Vendors," now included in court documents, Tareq wrote that many wedding orders were over budget and that "Should Michaele Holt make any orders, you must have approval by Tareq Salahi in order to guarantee payment -- otherwise, vendors will not get paid."
The wedding finally took place Nov. 1, 2003, in the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in downtown Washington. It was an extraordinary spectacle. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, described in the program as a "family friend," gave a talk in which he joked, according to an item in the New York Post, that the wedding had been postponed so many times he felt like subpoenaing the couple. (The Supreme Court press office says Kennedy has no comment on the relationship.)
According to the program, there were more than 50 bridesmaids and groomsmen. Pamela Vito, the bridal boutique co-owner who provided dresses, recalls that one bridesmaid was a woman Tareq and Michaele had met on a trip -- she "was so fun and had such a good time that they invited her." Also in the lineup was Charis van Metre, a former Miss February in Playboy magazine.
One guest, Nicole Backus, remembers walking in, looking at the crowd, and thinking: "This isn't a wedding. This is an emerging new nation."
The reception at Oasis was elegant, Backus recalls. But guests did have to submit to one pesky indignity. "All wedding guests will be required to show original Invitation card, Car Pass & legal Photo Identification upon arrival to the ceremony and/or the Oasis Winery," warned the wedding Web site. "Thank you for your understanding."
Trouble in paradise
The couple lived at the winery, where things did not go well domestically, according to a suit the elder Salahis would file against Tareq. After founding Oasis around 1980, Corinne and Dirgham jointly operated it for nearly 15 years, developing the business into a 15,000-case-a-year operation, and grossing as much as $1 million in annual revenue in some years, they said in court papers. In 1994, they formed Oasis Vineyard Inc. and appointed Tareq general manager.
In 1998, Tareq wrote in court papers, he gained a 5 percent interest in Oasis Vineyard. In the following years, he started calling "himself 'president' of the Company and 'owner' of the winery, although he never held more than a 5 % minority interest," according to his parents' lawsuit.