By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 23, 2009;
Tareq and Michaele Salahi slipped inside the one-room courthouse in Fauquier County General District Court last week and sat on a bench five rows back from the defendant's table.
Across the aisle sat Jerome Farmer, who with his wife, Jeanette, owns Fresh Escape Catering, based in Midland. Jerome Farmer has filed a lawsuit against Tareq Salahi for unpaid debt, claiming Salahi owes $15,000 for catering services rendered in the spring.
When Jerome Farmer v. Tareq Salahi was called, the two men approached the bench. They spoke so quietly, those in the gallery could barely hear. Judge Charles B. Foley set the trial date for March 24 and the defendant, Salahi, and the plaintiff, Farmer, left the bench.
In separate interviews, Farmer and Salahi gave their sides of the story.
Salahi said it is "incorrect" that he owes Farmer money for catering an America's Polo Cup match in Poolesville in May. He said Farmer owes him money for concessions and sales of beer and wine, allegations that Farmer disputes. "We are greatly upset," said Salahi, who is chairman and founder of America's Polo Cup, the business entity that the Salahis say raises funds for their charitable organization. "We don't owe him money. We need $7,500 back and all the profit from the concession stands. We are prepared to take this to the highest court in the land." He says he has not filed a lawsuit against Farmer.
Farmer said the claim that he sold beer and wine is "outrageous." After the event, "they started e-mailing us crazy things like, we owe them money for beer and wine we sold," Farmer said. "We don't even have a license to sell alcohol. And it was his wine that they were giving away. They were just coming up with a bunch of bogus stuff."
Farmer said he had an agreement with Salahi to cater hospitality tents and that half the money, $7,500, was to be paid before the match; the rest at the event's completion. Plus, he said, Salahi was to write a check to the waitstaff. But days before the event, Farmer said, things started unraveling.
"At the time they were to give us half, we ran around to six different places to meet up," Farmer said. "They said, 'Meet me in Warrenton.' We would go to Warrenton, and they would not be there. Then they would say, 'Can you meet me in Tysons?' We would drive to Tysons and [Michaele] wasn't there. So we had to go back to Poolesville. But they weren't there."
At one point, Farmer said, the Salahis said they would get the money wired from overseas. That didn't happen. "I was in tears," Farmer said. "It was down to the wire."
The day before the event, the caterer said he finally got a check for $7,500. "Everything was going well," Farmer said. Then, he said, "they had people coming off the field who were not invited to the hospitality tents. They told us to expect 250 people. But coming through the tent were about 500 people. Those people came in and we still fed them. "
After the event, Farmer said, Tareq Salahi promised to settle the bill. "We got our calculations in. That was it," he said. "We never heard from them again."
The Farmers' catering company, started 10 years ago, is a small business. Farmer said as a result of the bad debt, he lost electricity and phone service and was unable to pay servers. "This is the hardest recession I have seen since I was a child," Farmer said. " . . . So when you receive a contract for a party, you relish it. You say, 'Thank God for this.' All of a sudden you have it, then you don't."
Salahi said he believes Farmer was motivated to file the lawsuit after the White House state dinner on Nov. 24, at which the Salahis appeared as uninvited guests, inciting controversy about White House security.
"He tried to slip this in on us given all the stuff happening in Washington," Salahi said.
The case was filed Nov. 16, a reporter told him.
"Was it?" asked Salahi. "I didn't know. I just found out about it three days ago."
Asked to comment on allegations that the Salahis attended the state dinner uninvited, Salahi smiled and said, "I've been told not to speak. I can't speak to that."
Just then, Michaele Salahi appeared and the couple exited the courthouse through a back elevator.