Virginia begins inquiry into Salahis' America's Polo Cup

Michaele and Tareq Salahi, a couple from Northern Virginia, are at the center of a controversy after they gained admission, uninvited, to a White House state dinner on Nov. 24, 2009.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 4, 2009

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on Thursday began a formal investigation into the America's Polo Cup, the business entity run by Michaele and Tareq Salahi that the couple says raises funds for their charitable organization, as a host of other problems became apparent for the couple.

The Indian Embassy canceled that nation's participation in the Polo Cup's 2010 event. The couple has advertised that event will take place on the Mall, but the National Park Service said the Salahis had not been granted a permit.

The Salahis say the America's Polo Cup is sanctioned by the "National Polo League," an organization whose director says was founded in 1893 and lists teams across the country. But officials for the nation's largest polo organization said Thursday that they had never heard of the league, its teams or its purported director.

In Florida, a polo magazine editor said the Salahis submitted pictures for a December 2008 article that identified Michaele Salahi as a "former Miss USA." No record exists of her winning that beauty crown, pageant officials said.

And in Montgomery County, a police detective said that when he investigated a complaint filed by the couple earlier this year, a law enforcement database showed that the couple has 41 records detailing various contacts with police, with the Salahis often saying they were victims of wrongdoing. The detective noted in his report that Tareq Salahi sent him paperwork that the detective judged to be false.

"The fact that Tareq Salahi would fabricate an 'invoice' rather than request another copy from the contractor caused the writer to question the veracity of the information given by the Salahis'," wrote Det. Bill Heverly on Oct. 2.

The Salahis did not appear in public Thursday, and their new attorneys, the New York law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf, declined to respond to developments. "We are not commenting on this matter," wrote Angelo Kakolyris, public relations manager for the firm, in an e-mail.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will "examine the fundraising practices of America's Polo Cup as they relate to the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions Law," the agency said in a statement. The agency would not comment further because of the investigation, department spokeswoman Elaine Lidholm wrote in an e-mail.

Announcement of the investigation came one day after the Post reported that the 2007 fundraising event had resulted in $15,000 in reported charitable gifts. Tareq Salahi told the Post last year that the event had raised $250,000 for his charity, Journey for the Cure.

Loudoun County contributed $136,500 to help sponsor the event, records show, and high-end sponsors included Cartier and Land Rover. The event resulted in vendors suing the America's Polo Cup or the Salahis for at least $500,000 in unpaid bills.

William O'Keefe, executive director of Morven Park, which hosted the event in 2007 and 2008 in return for a share of the profits, said Thursday that the park received a $5,000 check in 2007 and nothing in 2008. (The $5,000 came from the Salahis' foundation, state reports show, not the America's Polo Cup business account.)

"The books they showed us said they lost money," O'Keefe said.

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