The party crashers: How the Salahis caused White House turmoil
Wednesday, December 23, 2009; 2:00 PM
How did two Virginia socialites and would-be reality TV stars crash the first state dinner of the Obama presidency and what has the White House learned from its investigation of the incident?
Washington Post staff writers Amy Argetsinger, Liza Mundy, Neely Tucker, Jason Horowitz and Mary Jordan take your questions about the strange story of the Salahis.
Read the three-part series: The Party Crashers: Trail of Accusations.
Amy Argetsinger: Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for joining us. It's been a challenge and a pleasure to work on this series, and I'm grateful that we had so many excellent colleagues joining us. Only a portion of us are here today in the chat -- altogether there were more than a dozen Post reporters involved in this project. Looking forward to your questions!
Arlington, Va.: My question is simple. What is wrong with these people?! I think they need a psychological examination for their delusions of grandeur. Has there ever been any hope of such a thing being court-ordered? Seriously.
Amy Argetsinger: Such a simple question, but such a complicated one. I know that a lot of armchair psychologists out there have been puzzling over this and offering up their theories of what kind of mentality lurks behind this kind of behavior.
Omaha: We watch with interest the comings and goings of you sophisticated, big city folks. The behavior of the Salahis (as described in your excellent series) is appalling. These people seem to have no scruples, ethics or regard for fellow human beings. Yet they apparently fit right in in Washington, D.C., where they fooled (and took advantage of) everyone from the lowly landscaper to the powerful Secret Service. Please don't tell me they have some Made-for-TV deal or Oprah tell-all plans in the works. And how do they intend to pay back all of these people?
washingtonpost.com: The Party Crashers: Trail of Accusations (Post, Dec. 23)
Amy Argetsinger: A theme I continue to hear from a lot of our readers is a worry -- an anger, even -- that the Salahis are going to get rich off of this escapade. I don't think that's the case. Even assuming that Bravo decides to keep them on "Real Housewives" or maybe some other show (no one's saying), you have to remember that there's really not a lot of money in reality TV. And Bravo would have signed them to a contract before they were famous/infamous -- when they were cheap, in other words.
There were reports late last month that the Salahis were attempting to get a media organization to pay six-figures for an interview; their reps later denied that this was the case. Honestly, even if they get paid for one thing or the other, they've got such a long list of debts behind they; I can't foresee them coming out ahead.
Bethesda, Md.: I just want to thank the Washington Post for exposing these people. Maybe now, fewer people will get "taken" by them, as they will be known to be dishonorable folks who won't pay their bills.
Amy Argetsinger: You're welcome.
Arlington, Va.: Has anyone confirmed that Tareq actually graduated from college with a degree in Viticulture. They've lied about almost everything else -- it wouldn't surprise me if he lied about this as well.
Liza Mundy: A spokesperson for UC-Davis told the Sacramento Bee that Tareq did start his studies there in 1987, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1994, after designing an "individual major" involving enology and management. So it took him a while but according to the school he did graduate. Several professors indicated to the paper that he had a pretty good time there.
Ballston, Arlington, Va.: Just a few observations --
Keep the Salahi coverage coming. It's a fascinating look at two sociopaths who thankfully did no physical harm at the White House. You can kill someone easily with something as simple as a sharpened credit card. The next White House crashers might not have such silly motives.
I loved the name of their fictional polo commissioner -- "Roger Stern." "Roger" -- as in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; and "Stern" -- as in NBA Commissioner David Stern. Anybody else catch that.
Please keep digging. Hopefully federal and all those local prosecutors will take the Salahis as seriously as the Post. Thanks.
Amy Argetsinger: A few people have noted that "Roger Stern" has one of those names that sounds so similar to other real people that it has a fake air of credibility.
Arlington, Va.: Are the Salahis in any criminal (as opposed to civil) jeopardy from: 1) crashing the White House; 2) the accumulation of so many civil lawsuits; 3) other activities?
Jason Horowitz: The Secret Service investigation is a criminal investigation, though it is unclear at this time what, if anything, the Salahis will be charged with. The couple will argue they believed they were invited because of a string of emails from an administration official. Whether that is convincing is up to the investigators.
Crozet, Va.: Hi, Thanks for taking this question, but it's a comment, not a question. Could you please tell your editors that the Web site title of this chat, "Salahis: Before They Were Famous" is inappropriate. Fame is not measured by risking arrest by crashing a White House event. Infamy is more like it. The Post should not be part of the bandwagon that equates any press with good press. Our culture is degrading quickly enough without us turning every wannabe into a celebrity. I'll now get off my soap box! Thanks.
Liza Mundy: Point well taken about the infamy versus fame. We've certainly tried to avoid adding to the couple's celebrity, but felt it was important to write about patterns of behavior that should be brought to light.
D.C.: My question is pretty basic: Can this couple be sent to prison, real prison, for not paying their bills and systematically defrauding people.
My worry would be that their behavior is probably so engrained that even after a few years in prison they'd get out and start it up all over again.
Neely Tucker: Well, there's no such thing as debtor's prison, of course. Liens can be attached to property, and one can lose just about all of one's possessions for not paying the bills, but prison isn't an option.
As far as "systematically defrauding people," that would be up to a prosecutor to attempt to make a case that is what they were doing. The difference between criminal and civil fraud is basically intent. Running a bad business, or being lousy at one's job, isn't a criminal count. Prosecutors have to show that a defendant set out to defraud customers or investors.
The only thing I saw in the reporting (outside the incident at the White House) that *might* enter that category would be the relationship between their polo event, which was billed as a fundraiser, and their charity, which apparently made very few charitable cash donations, and none that we know of after 2007.
This is what Virginia's Department of Consumer Affairs is now investigating.
Baumphuk Egypt: I understand Bravo is pitching a reality show to these people. Is this true? Won't in encourage others?
Amy Argetsinger: Let's backtrack here; this is material that was covered in earlier stories, and I'm afraid we've got it a little twisted here.
Earlier this year, the Salahis were one of several couples in the Washington area who were being considered by Bravo for "The Real Housewives of D.C." and who had spent months being taped for the show. Bravo, in fact, had been taping the couple as they made their preparations for the White House trip that day.
Since the White House gatecrash scandal broke, Bravo officials have insisted that they had made no definite decisions about whether the Salahis were to be on the show. I don't think any of us really have a clue what's going to happen with this show -- whether Bravo's involvement with a scandal-ridden couple is a huge liability that they'll want to flee from, or whether they'll decide they've got a goldmine of behind-the-scenes footage on this controversial couple that the world will be dying to watch.
Woodbridge, Va.: In some ways, I want this couple to go away with the remainder of the 15 minute sponges of 2009. On the other hand, they are like an ambulance that suddenly shows up at the neighbors' house...one wants to watch and see what happens next.
I do hope that, after reading The Post's excellent series, if they truly owe all of those contractors and business associates money, the Sahali's pay their debts.
Liza Mundy: It would take a lot of watches. But yes, repayment of those debts would be a good thing for all involved.
To Omaha: This couple lives in Front Royal, Va., and the now infamous winery is in Hume, Va. Ever heard of those areas? Didn't think so. These are hardly big city folk.
Neely Tucker: Big cities, no, but the Virginia Piedmont and Shenandoah areas are dotted with little towns that have some pretty notable people/addresses.
Olney, Md.: Actually the name that got to me was Antonio Prospero, a combination of two characters in The Tempest. Is his middle name Ariel, by any chance? Does he have a daughter Miranda?
Liza Mundy: He is a real person. There is no Caliban involved here, either.
Ridgefield Park, N.J.: Has anyone in the media been able to confirm that no phone calls were made by the Salahis on his cell on the day of the White House event when it was alleged that the battery went dead?
Amy Argetsinger: Ridgefield, you crack me up.
The chatter is referring here to the events of the morning of the state dinner. The Salahis had exchanged e-mails with a Pentagon official who promised she'd try to use her pull to get them into the dinner -- they claim these e-mails led them to believe that they *might* be on the list at the White House. She says she called them the morning of the dinner to let them know that, no, they definitely weren't in; and they later claimed that Michaele's cell battery was dead so they didn't get the message.
Anyway, a lot of readers get all worked up about that detail, and have pushed for some proof of whether her cell was really dead.... honestly, I think this is all sort of besides-the-point. There are so many other bigger lies and breaches here, that one is just plain dog-ate-my-homework stuff, and doesn't really chance any facts. The point is, even if they missed a call, they never had any reason to really think they were on the list.
Bergen County, N.J.: In total, how much are they alleged to owe their numerous creditors?
Amy Argetsinger: Neely, any idea? I think the (incomplete) column of figures we had alongside today's story added up to something close to $700,000. Of course that's both an incomplete list, and one that includes claims not yet validated with a court ruling.
Washington, D.C.: In a social setting, there is nothing that bothers me more when people try very unsuccessfully and desperately to appear wealthy. In your opinion, do you think the Salahis need psychiatric help? They seem to live in a very delusional world.
Amy Argetsinger: Sorry, we're not licensed professionals here!
San Clemente, Calif.: I got a good laugh a few weeks ago listening to one of your society reporters on NPR. She stated that when she saw the Salahis at the White House her first thoughts were, "How did they make the cut? They have no money! They have no connections!" Spoke volumes about Washington and our "Democracy".
Amy Argetsinger: It's the ugly truth.
Washington, D.C.: I believe that the "outing" of the Salahis' that has been accomplished in the investigative reporting of the Washington Post will deter others from such outrageous behavior in the future. If this couple wants this type of publicity and notoriety ... then continue ... it has been a good read.
Amy Argetsinger: Thanks!
Capitol Hill, D.C.: Confidential to Omaha: You probably hate it when people who have never been to Omaha classify it as a cow pasture full of hicks, right? Similarly, those of us who live in D.C. aren't fond of statements like this: These people seem to have no scruples, ethics or regard for fellow human beings. Yet they apparently fit right in in Washington, D.C.
Liza Mundy: Yes, our culture and literature are full of travelling salesmen and all sorts of personages who go from town to town with all sorts of schemes in small towns and big cities alike. Music Man, anybody? Oklahoma? The genius is to target your audience in the right way, maybe?
Washington, D.C.: Thank you for your work on this series, it's a fascinating story! So, what I still don't understand is how do they pay their day to day bills? The mortgage, groceries, gas, etc.? Do they actually have any income at all?
Amy Argetsinger: Where'd you get the impression that they pay bills?
Bethesda, Md.: Okay, the articles (very well done, by the way) caused two opposing feelings: I despise them more yet also feel sorry for them. It's one thing to make such a mess out their lives, but to have it laid out in such detail in the Washington Post is quite another.
My crystal ball says they will get some sort of book deal out of this, and probably make millions. That will chase away my sympathy.
Neely Tucker: This is a good point.
There are no charges that the Salahis have physically harmed anyone, and there's not even an accusation that they made off with millions of dollars of public funds, etc.
Individually and together, they are clearly people with marketable social skills and a certain style that many people have found engaging. That their lives took this course seems, at the most basic narrative level, tragic.
I don't know about a book deal, though. What would be the demographic that would shell out $23.95 for it?
College Park, Md.: I have really enjoyed reading about this couple and their antics; much more so than real issues, like the health-care debate (blah!). It seems to me that there are no legal grounds to charge them with trespass at the White House, and that's why nothing has happened so far. Embarrassing, yes, but no more than that. I think it's great that stories like this one can still happen in the nation's capital and get some of us stirred up a bit. We want more on the Salamis, keep up your sleuthing!
Liza Mundy: Thanks for your comments. We have so many comments that in some cases we'll just post them without extensive reply in order to get them out there.
Washington, D.C.: Why are you giving them continued free publicity? They have delusional self-importance and many serious legal issues, but otherwise they are not interesting. These types don't care what kind of publicity they get, just so they get it.
Amy Argetsinger: I've been getting variations on this question from a vocal minority of readers, and I have to say, I don't get it.
For starters, obviously, this is not the kind of publicity anyone wants. One could argue that the Salamis got away with so much for so long because they presented the image of rich, successful, substantial people. The stories we've presented have punctured that illusion -- and could keep others from getting fooled.
I guess you think that we should "punish" them by ignoring them, but I don't think that's really doing the rest of the community any good.
D.C.: I was surprised by how, well, ordinary the Salahi's house looks. (Mine is no mansion, but my landscaping is a lot better. Of course, I 'paid' my landscaper and do maintenance myself.) What is their house worth on the market? Any real estate agents out there? What's their neighborhood like?
Neely Tucker: As I remember it, the house was appraised for just under $700,000.
Oasis: Oasis Vineyard, which the junior Salahis apparently destroyed, used to be such a lovely place and the wine wasn't bad either. I had read about the family disputes in the past years. Is there no hope of reviving the vineyard?
Liza Mundy: It seems to me that it certainly should be possible to revive it. The grapevines are still there, the equipment. It's the finances and dispute that need to be resolved.
D.C. Native: Why would they be considered D.C. folks when they are from Front Royal? Most D.C. folks are hard working and actually 'earn' credentials, not pretend.
Amy Argetsinger: One of the ironies of "Real Housewives of D.C." is that most of the families that Bravo appears to be seriously considering don't actually live in D.C., but in the burbs.
More to Omaha: "Big cities, no, but the Virginia Piedmont and Shenandoah areas are dotted with little towns that have some pretty notable people/addresses."
Isn't that true of most places really. Warren Buffet lives in Omaha.
Liza Mundy: Posting this one. (We have to write something below, otherwise it won't publish.)
Fairfax, Va.: Great series! What happened after Tareq gave the Court his "Patek Philippe" watch to satisfy a judgment when a) the watch was broken and b) the watch was a fake Patek?
Amy Argetsinger: By the time it was disclosed that the watch was a fake, the Salahis's lawyer had already delivered a certified check for $2,000-some, which allowed them to take the watch back. I don't think the landscaper who they owned money particularly cared about the Patek phoniness at that point, since he got his money.
Arlington, Va.: Great series on the con artist Salahis. Despite their odious behavior is it possible they have performed a public service by exposing gaping holes in White House security before someone with harmful intentions made the same discovery? Do you see them playing up this angle to deflect criticism and create sympathy?
Amy Argetsinger: Ha! There's an idea, but no, I haven't seen that argument made yet.
Dumb question: On what grounds can the Salahis countersue trades people who sue over non-payment of bills? Are these those so-called SLAPP suits, which stifle First Amendment speech? Can the Salahis be counter-countersued, or is there such a thing?
Amy Argetsinger: The grounds vary from case to case, but they'd be the same as the grounds for any lawsuit-- we didn't get thus-and-such-service, whatever. In many cases, the Salahis were the ones to instigate the litigation -- arguably before the person who claimed they owed them could take action.
Oak Hill, Va.: Just a comment: After reading your article in the Style section yesterday I realized I had met Michaele in 2000, when she did the make up for the bridesmaids in my sister's wedding. She was stunning! Beautiful and thin, and her stories -- had been engaged for over 5 years -- doing make-up for the rich and famous -- were highly entertaining. She loved being around famous people and enjoyed talking about it. She quickly became your best friend but was not good with follow-up phone calls and such. She could change the atmosphere in a room, she was that warm and beautiful. What's also interesting is that she quickly recognized she was simply "a make-up girl!"
Liza Mundy: Those are all interesting and evocative observations and match what other people said. Several others did talk of a long-time engagement. I do think it was hard for her to go ahead and resolve to marry Tareq, which may account for the numerous postponements. And yes, she did have a wedding makeup business, according to an archived website. I'm not sure what your last sentence means, exactly--"She quickly recognized she was simply a makeup girl"--since her actions suggest precisely the opposite, that she aspired to be something else entirely. Feel free to elaborate.
Washington, D.C.: I really go back and forth between thinking that stories like your three-part series are harming our nation by giving these Creepy Creepertons the attention (whether positive or negative)they so desperately crave against the fact that I find them so delightfully and entertainingly appalling and I just can't read enough. Am I the bad person here?
Amy Argetsinger: Okay, here's another of these questions. Setting aside the question of whether the Salahis are enjoying these stories (I can't imagine), what are you saying? That we should just ignore all bad people and their (alleged) evildoings? Only write stories about Eagle Scouts?
Richmond, Va.: My guess concerning psychology is an extreme case of narcissism, at least on the part of the husband, who seems to be the initiator of many of their shenanigans.
Liza Mundy: My letter box suggests that this couple are keeping many armchair psychologists busy.
Nordstrom Make up counter: For some reason I can't shake that image (from your story) of a Nordstrom make up counter girl showing up for work in a fur coat. That seems to say so much about where Missy Holt wanted to go in the future and where Tareq was trying to take her even though he wasn't that wealthy.
Liza Mundy: There was also a short fur wrap, on some days. Certainly, her outfits and presentation lodged themselves in people's memories.
Salahi sightings: Other than court appearances, have the Salahis surfaced lately?
Amy Argetsinger: I think our colleague Deneen Brown had the last known sighting of them. She caught up with the Salahis last week in court, where they were embroiled in litigation against a caterer who claims they owe him $15,000. Link to follow.
Fairfax, Va. : Didn't they sell their winery for almost 5 million?
Liza Mundy: There have been several offers to buy the winery, but none has gone through, so far, to my knowledge.
CB in D.C.: Maybe the Salahis felt that they would only end up on the Bravo TV Channel if they would lead this "Polo Life-style." But to enable themselves to lead the Polo life-style, they would need to run up major debts everywhere temporarily. And they might have felt it was all worth it, for appearing on Bravo would (in their belief) be the end of all their financial struggles and troubles....
Amy Argetsinger: Lots of theories.
Falls Church, Va.: How common is it for guests at a state dinner to pull out a camera and start taking snapshots with other far more prominent guests including the vice president? Would that have been a tip-off to the social secretary, who enjoyed guest status herself?
Amy Argetsinger: We were surprised by the Salahis' Facebook gallery of photos, since we assumed it was either not allowed or completely gauche to take photos at a state dinner. But while it may still generally be considered uncool to grab the Veep for a grip-and-grin, I'm told that these days a lot of guests DO bring cameras, and were busily snapping away during the entertainment portion of the night.
washingtonpost.com: Caterer sues Tareq Salahi, alleges failure to pay for polo party services (Post, Dec. 23)
Fairfax, Va.: Has Bravo stepped in and agreed to pay up for the Salahis's debts? Does anyone believe the whole perverted scam was completely set up by the TV network and the more scandal, the better the ratings? Comments?
Amy Argetsinger: Bravo's not saying anything, and the lawyers involved have declined to say who (if anyone) is paying them these days.
I don't think Bravo ever imagined anything like this would happen. I don't think this is quite the "image" they see for themselves. However, if you've watched past seasons of "Housewives," you know that they thrive on drama. This is only my theory, but I'm confident that Bravo knew about the Salahis's family squabbles and small-time controversies (these had been written about way before the state dinner), and picked them with the thinking they'd provide good fodder.
Washington, D.C.: Why were the Salahi's able to get away so long with flim- flamming creditors and vendors? After all, the Middleburg/Front Royal area would seem fairly tight knit and the circles in which the Salahi's ran (and some of the vendors who purveyed to them) were a fairly small group. Moreover, the lawsuits and bankruptcy involving the family winery were a major news story in the Post some two years or more ago and should have been a red flag. Why weren't vendors more aware or more cautious of them (payment in advance, please) long before now?
Neely Tucker: This is a really good question (without necessarily agreeing with the "flim-flamming" description) that we often asked sources in today's story.
The main answer that came back was, "I/we just didn't know." I think the polo events involved some fairly high-end sponsors/vendors who don't, like most people, care to broadcast their business disputes, and rarely was the money involved astronomical. It's also clear that the Salahis were not shy about countersuing, or making counter accusations, that tended to get unpleasant. As one source told me, when I asked why they didn't sue, "At some point, you just don't want some types of people in your life."
It was my perception that many people in the national polo scene tended to roll their eyes at "The America's Polo Cup" as Tareq's rather grandiose salesmanship and let it pass. The embassies of the foreign nations involved (England, Italy, Australia, India) seemed not to have communicated much with one another.
But after the initial story, many, many people contacted us about their experiences with the Salahis.
Arlington, Va.: Do you think that many of those duped by the Salahis failed to investigate what appears to be a very public record of their behavior?
Amy Argetsinger: Well, look. You have to give people a break. They're dealing with a couple who seems to be wealthy and substantial and well-connected -- it may never have occurred to them that they might find a lot of stuff in court records about them. And honestly, these suits are spread out over such a wide region. It took us a month to pull together these stories.
Sterling, Va.: Maybe the Salahis ought to pair up with the Heene's and start a business delivering wine by tying the bottles to helium balloons...you never know... Stranger things have happened.
Amy Argetsinger: Hahahaha!
Baltimore, Md.: Timeline Question: The night of the state dinner Mrs. Salahi has said that she did not receive the voicemail from the WH official indicating that they could not attend the event because her cell phone battery died. If that was the case how was she able to post those pics onto Facebook almost instantly after they were taken?
Amy Argetsinger: Actually, those Facebook photos didn't go up until 2 a.m.
Irvine, Calif.: How do you leave a salon without paying? What was her excuse for not paying with a credit card on the spot?
Liza Mundy: I find this hard to understand, as well, as it has never worked for me: I've always found that people expect to be paid. I did put this question to a number of people, including the woman who sold them Michaele's wedding dress. She said that Tareq, who liked to barter, talked her into discounting the $5,000 price tag by half, promising free wine and free limo service. There was a payment dispute that is too long to go into, which she says was resolved in her favor. Despite all that, the boutique proprietor says that she threw in a wrap, as a gift, because it looked so good with the dress. I gather from these conversations that Michaele with her warmth and charisma had a way of making people want to help her. "She convinces them that that's what they want to do," the proprietor said. She also said: "People wanted to be around them because they were name-droppers and because you felt like you were around somebody sort of important." So I think they cultivated an air of importance that just somehow worked.
Appalled, USA: The Salahis are absolutely appalling -- and fascinating. Who cares that slipped into the White House? I feel sorry for all of the people they are bilking. At what point does failure to pay become a criminal matter? Is there any chance that they will serve time in jail for cheating so many people?
Amy Argetsinger: I don't think any of us has an answer on that... or do we?
Floris, Va.: Am sure at least one of you remember Sante Kimes who crashed Blair House in the early 1970s, not to mention several embassy parties -- all on the same night! The infamous and priceless pix of her shaking hands with Gerald Ford is almost identical with Michaele meeting Obama. Sante was a giant con artist in her own right, also a convicted murderer now serving hard time. Not that the Salahis would go that far, of course.
Amy Argetsinger: Oh my, I forgot that the Sante Kimes story started with White House crashing...
New York, N.Y.: I just think that any policy that stops the Salahis from entering the White House that results in keeping Dana Milbank from entering the White House has to be wrong.
Amy Argetsinger: Unintended consequences. Sad thing.
Bethesda, Md.: In your article, you touched on the fact that this couple used false lure to the Polo event by making claims of prince Charles playing, etc. Having worked at the event, I also heard claims that the first lady would attend, and other such boasts form Michaele and Tareq. Most of the large sponsors do not want to pursue legal action due to bad publicity and the fact the they are "uncollectable.," Isn't there some other aspect of fraud here that should be prosecuted?
Neely Tucker: Please see my earlier post about the difference between criminal fraud and civil fraud. It would be a pretty difficult prosecution, I would think, for what would likely amount to a rather small offense, even if convicted. Many prosecutors might reasonably determine that they have more pressing responsibilities.
Falls Church, Va.: If not discovered by Amy and Roxanne, would this couple have gotten away with it at the White House?
Are there many other couples like this on the Washington social scene?
Amy Argetsinger: It's a good question. And kudos to Roxanne for recognizing them when they walked in that night, and then noticing that they weren't on the list. (It took several hours, then, to verify that indeed, they weren't supposed to be on the list, that this appeared to be a crashing incident.) However, the Salahis might have ended up outing themselves by bragging about their attendance on Facebook -- and posting those photos as proof.
Piscataway, N.J.: How do the Salahis keep finding lawyers to represent them after having left so many unpaid lawyers' fees in their wake? I can kind of see small businesses, like caterers and hair salons, or quasi-employees, like limo drivers, not being sophisticated enough to know that they're signing on with people who have a history of non-payment, but don't law firms perform even a rudimentary credit/background check before taking on a client who won't pony up a decent sized retainer up front?
Neely Tucker: I am sure there are some attorneys around town asking that very question.
DC Suburbs: It really is too bad that the family winery has suffered the mis-management of the younger Salahis. They had wonderful wines, events and it was just a beautiful place to spend a Saturday with friends ...
What's going to happen to their most current vintage (if there has been any) since it's been under all this family turmoil? Are there any other siblings involved in the winery or was it just Tareq?
Liza Mundy: According to court documents, Tareq's half-brother, Ismail, is (or was, but I think still is) a member of the winery's board. I am afraid I don't know what's going on with the most recent vintage. I was told by a staffer that the vines have been untended for two years or so. It's not clear whether the winery is open to the public.
New York, N.Y.: Was there any follow-up reporting on the two staffers that Roxanne Roberts spoke to at the White House about the Salahis?
I believe their names were Courtney O'Donnell and Katie McCormack Lelyveld.
Were they reprimanded or fired?
Amy Argetsinger: Something we have to keep in mind. When Roxanne saw the Salahis at the White House, no one -- not even she -- had any notion that this was a gate-crashing situation. She didn't blow a whistle or shoot up flares -- she simply asked the White House staff if those were indeed the Salahis and why weren't they on the list.
Washington, D.C.: Can a court force them to sell the vineyard in order to pay their debts? It bothers me to no end that these people go through life robbing hard working people.
Amy Argetsinger: Tareq and Michaele only have a small percentage of ownership in the winery -- it's mostly his parents'.
Boston, Mass.: I've been reading the Salahi articles and trying to figure out who the instigator of the pair is. But it seems like both of them feed into each other's worst qualities and then re-enforce or compliment each other rather stopping the others' bad behavior.
After doing all this research on the couple, would you come to the same conclusion? Or do you believe that one of them leads the other into trouble?
Liza Mundy: It would take even more reporting to answer that question, but I am inclined to agree with your view: mutual reinforcement.
State College, Pa.: Have enjoyed reading the series on these two...given the number of lawsuits, I'm just AMAZED these two thought they could waltz into the WH uninvited and there not be any repercussions. Do you agree that given how it's turned out (i.e. all the publicity-not all positive), they likely wish they had never crashed the party?
Amy Argetsinger: Probably. I think there was a fair amount of naiveté involved. It's possible they went to the White House with no real certainty they'd get in -- and then didn't realize there was such a thing as an official guest list from which their absence would be conspicuous once they started bragging about going to the party.
Hume, Va.: Hume, Va. is named after the Hume family of which Brit Hume is one and lives there, speaking of dotted with names.
Liza Mundy: Good point.
Traverse City, Mich.: Did you ascertain whether there are any liens against their home -- mortgage, judgment, mechanic (contractor usually), etc? And if so, held by whom and for how much? Any guesses as to whether sale of the house would net anything if there is a mortgage?
Neely Tucker: To date, we have not found any record of liens against the home.
Washington, D.C.: Reading about the Salahis is like sitting down with a giant bag of chips -- bad bad bad but I just can't stop. But underneath it all, some great reporting, and for that, thank you, Rox and Amy and journo team. Do you anticipate that more of the folks who have been cheated by the pair will start filing more lawsuits?
Amy Argetsinger: Good question. Will people be more likely to sue? Or less likely, now that they realize how few financial resources are actually there behind the glamorous facade?
Washington, D.C.: FWIW, I have been routinely using my own coined term "being Salahied" to punctuate when a persistent user/fraud finally gets his/her due.
Liza Mundy: Interesting. I wonder if you see this happening much.
Bethesda, Md.: Any details on how the Salahis landed that DC style magazine cover story a few years ago? Granted, the magazine was minor and died but somebody must have thought them interesting or legit enough to grace a cover. Or was there some sort of deal?
And what would you say to the Salahis if they're reading this chat? Odds are pretty good, right? They're probably reading everything about themselves.
Neely Tucker: I don't believe they were on the cover. To the best of my knowledge, the photograph of them ran inside.
Wheaton, Md.: On TV broadcasts of NFL games, they have a policy of not showing fans who run out on the field during a game. By not giving the "game crasher" publicity, they don't encourage the behavior. The White House crashers have been in the paper every day for a couple weeks now -- is this wise?
Amy Argetsinger: Now, you tell me: Are you more likely to crash a White House dinner, now that you've seen the coverage that the Salahis have enjoyed? Come on.
Fairfax, Va.: Do you know if anyone is offering tourists to get their picture taken with life-sized cutouts of the Salahis in front of the White House? I think there is money to be made.
Liza Mundy: The snow has probably interfered with something like that up to now, but anything is possible.
Jerusalem, Israel: It seems to me that most people who are interested in this are just jealous of the Salahis and are enjoying a vindictive kind of skewering. There are probably many people like the Salahis that are getting away with this type of activity and that means they skipped to the front of the line. But honest people are angry and jealous because these other people do get to the front of the line. The problem is putting so much value on status and prestige, whether achieved honestly or otherwise.
Amy Argetsinger: That's the thing about the Salahi saga -- they're just maddening on so many levels.
You touched on the fact that this couple used false lure to the Polo event by making claims of Prince Charles playing, etc: Donald Trump used to do this -- he would claim that all sorts of people (e.g., Princess Diana, Kim Basinger) had joined his club in Palm Beach. He received a cease-and-desist letter from the British Royal Family for using Diana's name. Other people have threatened him with lawsuits (defamation, invasion of privacy, false light) when he did that, so I'm guessing that all of the sponsors and the others whose names the Salahis have used over the years would be able to do the same.
Amy Argetsinger: Name-dropping -- it's not just a science, it's also an art.
Fairfax Station, Va.: I initially was going to submit my comments below to the WP for being published, but decided that this online chat venue would allow a level of anonymity that would be useful in expressing my disdain for this pair while avoiding any frivolous libel lawsuit I might incur by these two miscreants for commenting upon the obvious...
"Fool me once, shame on you..."
As I read through the legions of lawsuits involving Tareq and Michaela Salahi as reported in the Dec 23rd Washington Post, I reflected upon my Jesuit upbringing, a lifelong adherence to the Golden Rule and took some measure of solace in realizing that this degree of salacious exposure does have an invaluable benefit...visibility! To even that industrious teenager out shoveling driveways, you're damn well going to get paid in full before you move one foot of snow from the Sahali's driveway! It was painful to read of the misery caused to so many merchants by all the unpaid bills, but to anyone that would ever consider rendering any service to the Salahis, heed the adage that ends with fool my twice, shame on me!
Merry Christmas to all who promote goodwill to their fellow men and women!
Amy Argetsinger: Merry Christmas to you too! And thanks for writing.
Anonymous: Why hasn't the IRS investigated the couple for receiving unreported income (i.e., receiving services or products unpaid). Or the FBI involved for interstate fraud? I'm sure they could throw great parties in prison.
Amy Argetsinger: I'd love to know if they're on the IRS's radar...
Champaign, Ill.: Question for AMY -- Way to go on the reporting on this scandal. It makes the POST a must-read. Could you enlighten your readers on the famous Red Dress of Mrs. Salahi (not a Sari-but Indian, of course). After all, you have that smart cashmere holiday dress -- maybe you could you tell us about where she obtained the dress, approximate cost, etc. I read somewhere that she got in in India...did she pay for it with a bounced check?
Amy Argetsinger: Ha, thanks! The Salahis told me (before they stopped returning my messages) that they got the dress in India, so that's all we know...
Front Royal, Va.: As one the Salahis's FR "neighbors" (I actually live 4-5 miles away in town), has anyone spoken with their real neighbors or former classmates?
I swear if you add in a murder or two, you'd have all the ingredients for another great Anne Rule book!
Liza Mundy: We interviewed neighbors and classmates whenever possible. As you might know from reading the story, a number of high school classmates spoke on Tareq's behalf. One professor told me he remembered Tareq because he gave him a bottle of wine for Christmas, which was an unusual gift to get from a student. As a neighbor yourself, you may also know that they winery was in a long-standing dispute at least with some neighbors, over noise and crowds related to the bigger winery events.
Alexandria, Va.: This may be too fluffy for a discussion of the news aspects of this story (and great reporting, gang!) but after having a West Wing rerun moment: the Salahis look like Josh and Donna, so Bradley Whitford with a little padding and what's her name Janelle Maloney with lots of makeup should play them in the movie.
Amy Argetsinger: We really haven't had enough discussion of who should play them in the movie, have we?
The Salahis are bounders: Are there other famous bounders? None comes to mind.
Amy Argetsinger: "Bounders." I like that word.
Washington, D.C.: Hi, very well done research. 1- At the America's Polo Cup Web site, logos for sponsors (Land Rover, etc.) are still featured, it would be interesting to see if the APC has permission to use them. 2- In one article it is mentioned that the Embassy of India withdrew its participation, yet in the APC Web site, it still listed. 3- Would it be possible for all who seek unpaid debts to file a single class action suit? 4- I can't help but feel sorry for the parents (Senior Salahis), if Oasis re-opens under their management, I will definitely continue to be a patron. Too bad I frequented the establishment under Jr. Salahi. Regards
Neely Tucker: Several sponsors have been dropped from that site since the first stories we published about it a couple of weeks ago.
India, though, is still up there. I don't know that the Indian embassy has to give their sanction for use of the country's name. Neither the U.S. State Department nor the U.S. Polo Association, the sports governing body, sanctions Mr. Salahi's team as representing the United States, but it's still up there as "USA vs INDIA."
Fairfax, Va.: In all of the extensive reporting on the Salahi's--you did not mention his service on the Board of Wolf Trap. Did he fulfill his obligations to Wolf Trap?
Amy Argetsinger: We know that he was on the board, and we have not heard of any problems there.
Poor little not rich couple: Now that their story has been all over the local media are they having trouble convincing businesses to take their credit? Seems like a smart thing to do is lock the door when you see them in the parking lot. Otherwise you do all that work in return for no pay.
Maybe they will have to relocate to another metro area (Dallas? L.A.? Seattle?) and start the scam again.
Amy Argetsinger: I wonder...
Washington, D.C.: Have you prepared for the possibility that the Salahis may sue the Washington Post for this story?
Amy Argetsinger: We are very careful in our reporting and writing on this topic, as on all topics.
Washington, D.C.: In your investigation, have you come across other players in the area who have not fulfilled obligations relating to charity fund-raising? If so, I wouldn't mind hearing about other incidents as well.
Amy Argetsinger: Check out my story about another disappointing charity event, link to follow...
Vienna, Va.: There are many social events in the D.C. area this time of year. Have the Salahis tried to crash any events since the WH crash?
Amy Argetsinger: They've been lying low, it seems.
Washington, D.C.: This is a great example of the kind of labor-intensive investigative reportage which is threatened by the financial challenges facing newspaper journalism. The Salahi case may not be earthshaking (even if delectable in its picaresque appalling quality), but the similar efforts have been vital to uncovering wrongdoing and incompetence of national implications. Hat's off to the Post.
Amy Argetsinger: Thank you.
Newport Beach, Calif.: For a couple with so many friends (dozens of bridesmaids, hundreds of guests at their wedding) why aren't there more people sticking up for them? Did you have trouble finding people willing to go on the record in support? Plus, I really want to know how these people knew Justice Kennedy well enough to have him speak at their wedding?!
Liza Mundy: Lots of people are reluctant to talk, but as I just mentioned, we did find high school classmates who spoke highly of Tareq and were in his wedding. As for the Kennedy connection, lots of people are curious about this. Justice Kennedy has declined to comment. There are a few clues: The wedding program describes him as a "family friend" and also says that "memories have been shared both on the tennis court in tight challenges at the Davis family home in Lake Tahoe and here in Washington, D.C." Justice Kennedy's wife's maiden name is Davis, so maybe it's a connection on his wife's side.
Washington, D.C.: Since the Secret Service has admitted responsibility, does this exonerate the Salahis from any criminal charges?
Amy Argetsinger: The Secret Service has taken the blame for letting the breach happen, but that doesn't necessarily excuse the Salahis, IF prosecutors decide there's any criminality in their role in the breach.
washingtonpost.com: 'Funniest Celeb' Charities Get Little Aid (Reliable Source, Sept. 29)
Jacksonville, Fla.: Great work - Amy, Liza, & Co.
Did you read the story WaPo did on Salahi in 2007? Va. Event Aims to Prove Polo Isn't Just for Princes Would be fun to check out the many claims he made in that interview: Prince Charles, Jordan, Thailand, Germany ... I doubt any of it is true.
Neely Tucker: Very early on it became impossible for us (even all those listed as working on this series and earlier stories) to truth squad all of the Salahis claims.
Washington, D.C.: Can you confirm that Tareq and Michaele were recently seen out on a double date with John and Kate at Five Guys?
Neely Tucker: (rimshot)
Glover Park, D.C.: Do you have any sense that they are embarassed by all of this? Of course, you can't shame the shameless.
Amy Argetsinger: This is just my armchair-psychologist side talking now, but yes, I do think they're embarrassed by all of this. Look at this from their view: They had a big night at the White House that they bragged to all their friends about -- only to have it revealed that no, they weren't invited, they didn't belong. On a basic level, setting aside all allegations of possible criminal behavior... it's still pretty humiliating.
Washington, D.C.: So, two people show up at the entrance of the WH, and they are let in. Even if they lied about being on the guest list, why should they be charged with anything? They didn't jump a fence or sneak their way in hiding someplace. Why charging them with a crime and not the WH staff with negligence?
Amy Argetsinger: You raise a good point, and this is why it could arguably be difficult to charge them with a crime in this matter. I guess we'll find out more later...
Re: Naivete: Somehow, naivete does not seem to be even on the radar with these two people -- they appear, from what you've uncovered -- that they are anything but. Wasn't 'everyone' wondering who was on the guest list for this event? I find it hard to believe they couldn't have figured that out -- they seem to be frighteningly manipulative and calculating. Your thoughts?
Amy Argetsinger: Good point. Maybe I was being too kind.
Washington, D.C.: First of all, on the issue of criminal prosecution: Obtaining goods or services without paying for them is a criminal offense. Depending on the state, it is a form of either Theft or Fraud. Failing to abide by a Court Order to pay a money judgment is also Contempt of Court, another criminal offense. If the allegations in the Post articles are true -- and I have no reason to think otherwise -- there should be ample grounds for multiple charges of Theft/Fraud, Criminal Contempt, and the like... as well as possible charges of Assault, Tax Evasion, etc. The law enforcement authorities should take action ASAP! Don't you agree?
Neely Tucker: Please see earlier posting of mine in response to a similiar query. Of the charges you mention, failure to pay a court order seems the clearest. Would depend on the judge/plaintiff to pursue vigorously.
Whether prosecutors in each of the jurisdictions mentioned would want to pursue would up be to them, their resources, case load, etc.
It WAS curious to me that, given the number of cases against them, that we didn't find a lien against their home.
Washington, D.C.: Now on the issue of "there's not really that much money to be made in reality TV": I beg to differ. I read that the Gosselins (Jon and Kate) earned $75K per episode, and were making $1.5M a year from their show before their marriage imploded. And their lavish lifestyle sure seemed to back that up. Any thoughts?
Amy Argetsinger: First, I'm not sure that there are any solid figures out there to tell us definitively what Jon and Kate make -- it's just a lot of estimates.
Secondly, Jon and Kate already had a claim to fame when they were signed to do a show -- eight kids! -- and then they were being made the central stars of a show, not just one family out of five.
Finally, Jon and Kate are almost certainly making a lot more money from the show this year than they were in the first. The only people who make a lot of money are those who are a hit their first year and have the power to negotiate a lucrative second season. Even if the Salahis make it onto TV next year... I'm not sure there's a second season for them, since I suspect their "glamorous life" story is now over.
Washington, D.C.: Any guestimates of how many people are owed funds who never sued? Also, this series only touched briefly on the financial records of their charity, but that seems to me to be the next shoe to drop. Any prospect of an IRS audit?
Neely Tucker: An earlier story delved more deeply into Journey for the Cure. Virginia's Department of Consumer Affairs began an investigation the next day. No word on how long that might go on, but I do know that the agency's general approach is to try to get people to just comply with the law, rather than pursue prosecution.
Amy Argetsinger: Thanks to all of you who submitted so many thought-provoking questions -- more than we could get to in this hour, even with our full-team-coverage approach. You can find our email addresses on the stories, so don't hesitate to send us any more questions or thoughts. And thanks most of all for reading this series.
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