The party crashers: A trail of accusations leads to Tareq and Michaele Salahi

By Mary Jordan, Neely Tucker and Amy Argetsinger
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Georgetown stylist sued Michaele Salahi to get paid for her $4,000 blond hair extensions. A Herndon couple went to court accusing the Salahis of breach of contract over the extra $25,000 they charged for their wedding. An Alexandria music promoter sued for $25,000 after paying to fly a band from France for a Salahi charity event.

Before they gained international notoriety by walking into the White House without an invitation, Tareq and Michaele Salahi were well known inside courthouses all around the capital area. A review of court records shows that more than 30 lawsuits in Virginia and Maryland have been filed against one or both of the Salahis, or a company they ran, since 2004. Some cases are pending, and some were settled out of court. Many times the judges ordered the couple to pay their bills but they haven't yet. In rare cases, the Salahis won.

The picture that emerges from court documents and interviews with detectives, sheriff's deputies and two dozen people who say they were bilked is that the Salahis created for themselves a fantastic world of champagne bubbles and fashion, famous friends and jet-setting good times, when, in fact, the reality was far different.

The court cases and interviews show that they convinced one person and company after another to chauffeur them, pamper them, provide designer dresses, food or entertainment -- then left them holding the bill. When challenged they sometimes countersued.

"Every courthouse clerk in the vicinity recognizes the Salahi name," said Mark Simons, a process server who delivered a summons to Tareq Salahi. Jim Jones, a detective in the Fauquier County Sheriff's Office, said the Salahis arrived at court with fanfare and in a white stretch limousine, leading onlookers to remark: "They're back!"

Sheriffs and process servers said they were reduced to playing cat-and-mouse to serve the Salahis notice; one process server said he waited four hours beside the Salahis' driver, only to get the slip.

At least three couples who held their weddings at the Salahi family's Oasis vineyard sued, saying large, unexplained charges showed up on their wedding bills.

"It was devastating at the time," said Marybeth Wootton, who said she ended up paying $20,000 in legal fees on top of a $55,000 wedding. She said her 2006 wedding turned out to be a $600-a-person event -- three times as much as expected. She was billed for so much wine that every guest -- including the children -- would have had to drink two bottles each, she said.

Just before Wootton's wedding, her credit card company put a hold on her account because of "suspicious billing" from Oasis, according to court documents. But as Wootton was leaving for her rehearsal dinner, an attorney for the Salahis called and threatened to cancel the wedding if she did not allow the charges to go through, according to the lawsuit filed in Fauquier County General District Court. Later, the Salahis offered to settle the $25,000 suit. Wootton said she received $5,000 with a promise to pay the rest. She never got more, she said.

Most of the cases are civil suits seeking payment for everything from auto repairs to a hospital visit, though there are complaints from an employee alleging that Tareq Salahi used abusive, obscene language, and from a tow-truck driver alleging that Tareq stole his truck keys and threatened to pull a gun when he came to tow away Tareq's Audi on a bank repossession order.

In many of the court documents, the Salahis denied claims against them. They did not respond to repeated attempts to reach them for comment for this article, including a note under the door of their home, telephone calls and e-mails. A notice taped on their door in Front Royal warned people "not to attempt to contact by e-mail or call." A New York-based law firm representing them on the state-dinner matter, Dewey & LeBoeuf, declined to discuss any other issue. David W. Silek, a Manassas-based lawyer who has represented the couple on many cases in local courts, said, when asked why the couple has been sued so many times: "I can't answer that. No comment."

An e-mail sent to The Washington Post last week and signed by Susan Dove, one of Michaele's bridesmaids at her 2003 wedding, amounted to a general defense of the couple and used the word "we." It described the Salahis as charitable people who had raised money for good causes. The e-mail said the couple's signature event, America's Polo Cup for charity, had been put under "great strain" because others had not paid them, including a polo club they say reneged on $52,000 in sponsorships, and a caterer who owes $80,000 for sales of wine and beer.

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