Someone Else's Dream House

For Sale at Auction: 25,000-Square-Foot Mansion. Tennis Court. Indoor Pool. Gold-Leaf Prayer Room.

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 21, 2008; Page B01

Turret by turret, brick by brick, the construction of the $3 million white mansion at the end of Summit Drive in Fairfax County paralleled the spectacular rise in the local real estate market and the fortunes of its owner, Indian mortgage broker and entertainment mogul Vijay K. Taneja.

Four years later, the economy is in shambles, and Taneja is probably headed to jail. His home was being auctioned yesterday to pay his creditors.

The 25,000-square-foot house -- complete with indoor swimming pool, squash court and gold-leaf Hindu prayer room -- was auctioned yesterday before dozens of bidders and curiosity seekers. Many who attended were simply drawn in by the "drama" of the event, said Indian journalist Raghubir Goyal, a longtime friend of Taneja's.

He explained that Taneja is a well-known personality who had made a name for himself by producing glitzy stage shows with actors from India's Bollywood that toured the United States. Homesick South Asians attended in droves.

"We thought he was a rich man," Goyal said. "He brought the culture of India to the United States. People would go by the thousands to see the shows he sponsored with top-notch film stars. He had gotten a lot of respect from the Indian American community for that."

The prospective bidders spoke in hushed tones and munched on doughnuts and coffee while taking in lavish rooms. They warmed themselves in front of a gas fire in the solarium, admiring murals on the wall of the Hindu god Lord Krishna -- wearing an intricately painted floral garland -- and his consort. They looked over the swimming pool, which has a glass retractable roof, and the squash court in the basement. They exclaimed over the roomy bedrooms and circular whirlpool tubs as well as the home's oddities, such as a commercial drinking fountain installed in the upstairs hallway. (Why?)

Taneja wasn't there to answer, and his lawyer, Robert P. Trout, declined to comment for him. But his presence was everywhere: in the family pictures with his wife and three school-age daughters that lined the walls, in the clothes that still hung in the closets. In fact, there is a master suite of five closets, the last and biggest crammed with jeweled saris.

"It would make Imelda Marcos proud," whispered H. Jason Gold, trustee of the Tanejas' federal bankruptcy case.

When work began on the home in 2005, construction vehicles caused havoc on the narrow street just off Lee Highway in Fairfax County, a neighborhood of modest 1950s brick ramblers and infill construction, neighbors said. They feared the large house, set off from street by a fence and an arch inspired by temple architecture, would be the scene of lavish parties.

It never was.

"They were very private people. . . . It seems like they were trying to keep people out or something. It's like they want to be barricaded," a neighbor said. But "whenever they light up the tennis court, it's like a landing strip."

At the same time that Taneja was building his dream home, federal prosecutors say, he was also executing an elaborate mortgage fraud scheme -- defrauding four U.S. banks of millions -- while continuing his global investments. Investigators are still trying to untangle the financial web. He pleaded guilty last week to bilking banks of at least $33 million and victimizing associates from the Indian community with phony home loans.

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