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The Party Crashers: A look at Tareq and Michaele Salahi before they were famous
Tareq also began operating a new business out of the vineyard, Oasis Enterprises, which included a limo operation, wine country tours and an events-and-catering business. Around 1999, according to his parents' lawsuit, he "diverted" a "substantial amount" of the vineyard's wine to Oasis Enterprises and had not paid the vineyard back. By 2002, the suit alleges, he was paying Oasis Enterprises' bills with Vineyard Inc. funds and using Vineyard employees for Oasis Enterprises.
Many of those who know him say Tareq never seemed very interested in making wine. Instead, he spent a lot of time expanding the winery's scope and using it to stage events, including weddings, which resulted in a number of lawsuits and complaints from clients saying the Salahis had racked up excessive charges. He was also active in a number of charitable causes. In 2002, in recognition of his fundraising achievements, he was named National Man of the Year by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
But in their winery-related endeavors, Tareq and Michaele were less effective, say some of those who worked with them. Tom Higginbotham worked part time during 2006 and 2007 as a driver for the limousine company, which, he says, was run out of a tiny office inside Oasis and went by a number of names. Higginbotham recalls that Michaele was "very friendly, loved to give you a hug," but that the limo company was poorly run. "They were constantly going through drivers," he says, and terrible when it came to organizing itineraries.
Meanwhile, the winery "was like a Peyton Place," Higginbotham says, the animosity between the younger and older couple thick in the air. "It was very awkward to work there and be professional. His parents were telling you things like, 'This is not Tareq's property; leave it alone.' Once, Higginbotham complained to Tareq and Michaele that he needed to be reimbursed for expenses he had shelled out personally when a Salahi credit card failed. "They took the money out of the winery cash register, which didn't have anything to do with the limo business."
In 2003, the Oasis winery started losing money. That year, according to the lawsuit, it posted a loss of $187,949 on revenue of $806,641; in 2004, it lost $271,661 on revenue of $726,115; in 2005, it lost $277,498 on $833,525 in revenue. Tareq's company was also supposed to pay the Vineyard with site fees from customers for events, but the Vineyard never got them, according to the lawsuit.
In 2006, the Oasis board had a telephone meeting -- just Corinne and Ismail Salahi, Tareq's half brother -- and they formally voted to remove Tareq as an officer, close the winery to the public immediately and "to hold Tareq Salahi responsible for the financial problems of the Company," according to a copy of the meeting's minutes contained in the lawsuit.
Later that same year, Corinne and Dirgham sued their son and Oasis Enterprises for $1.5 million in damages and reimbursements; asked the court to evict him and Oasis Enterprises from the winery's premises; and to appoint a receiver to handle the company's affairs.
In March 2007 Tareq countersued. He argued that Oasis Enterprises actually raised the winery's profile and enabled it to "increase sales," and that it was his parents' mismanagement that had imperiled the family business.
Two months later, in May, the parents amended their original suit, seeking more than $3 million and adding Michaele, 44, as a defendant.
The family dispute would wind on, a modern Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The court record grew to include e-mails and bulletins in which Tareq allegedly called his mother a "liar" and referred to her "destructive instability." In 2008, Corinne wrote in an e-mail that the past years had been "intolerable," saying, "I can no longer fight. I want this to be all over."
Both enterprises ended up filing for bankruptcy, and earlier this year, a judge signed an order dismissing the suit after both parties agreed to stop fighting in court. "They couldn't afford the lawyers' fees anymore," said Paul Morrison, who was Tareq's attorney during most of the suit and said his firm is still owed about $50,000. Corinne has petitioned to be appointed guardian for her husband, who is suffering from dementia. On a recent day the winery was dark and quiet; yellow flags fluttered at the gated entrance and over a pavilion in the rear, but the premises felt deserted.