News Column

Tareq Salahi Sued by Cuccinelli

April 26, 2012

Jim Nolan

He says White House gate crasher failed to conduct wine tours that customers curchased. -- On Monday, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced he has filed suit against White House gate crasher and former vintner Tareq Salahi for allegedly cheating customers who bought wine tours from his Northern Virginia company.

Cuccinelli's lawsuit, filed in Fauquier County Circuit Court, alleges Salahi violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act for failing to conduct tours that were purchased, failing to provide refunds for canceled tours and claiming other companies as official partners that had no relationship with his businesses -- Virginia Wine Tourism Inc. and Celebration Entertainment Productions.

Cuccinelli said the businesses offered wine-tour services in Northern Virginia through the website VirginiaWineTour.com. The investigation stemmed from complaints filed with the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs and the Better Business Bureau.

The lawsuit requests that the court enjoin VirginiaWineTour.com from violating the VCPA and reimburse consumers. It also seeks civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation of the act.

Salahi told The Washington Post that he had not seen the suit, but that "it sounds like a witch hunt."

Salahi, 42, took over his family's vineyard in Hume, Oasis Winery, in 1994. But he gained national notoriety in November 2009 when he and his wife, Michaele, were revealed to have crashed a White House state dinner President Barack Obama held in honor of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The incident precipitated Salahi's resignation from the board of the Virginia Tourism Corp., to which he had been appointed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine after serving on state wine boards since 2000.

The flurry of publicity led to a cable television spot for Michaele on Bravo's "The Real Housewives of D.C." The couple divorced last year after Michaele was linked romantically to a band member from the '80s rock group Journey.

Monday's lawsuit was not the first time Salahi has crossed paths with the attorney general. In February, he agreed to pay more than $30,000 in civil penalties and fees stemming from fundraising irregularities in his "Journey for the Cure" charity.



Source: (c)2012 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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