Scandal

03.07.12

Tareq Salahi’s New Troubles

Diane Dimond talks to Tina Pray about her secret relationship with the White House gate-crasher—Pray alleges he’s asked her to lie under oath.

Things have not been so rosy for faux celebrity Tareq Salahi lately. Ever since his wife, Michaele, left him six months ago for her old flame, Journey guitarist Neal Schon, the 43-year-old Virginia socialite has been struggling to find his own brand.

After the Salahis’ very public separation in September 2011–which Tareq at first tearfully described to a local TV station as a possible kidnapping of his wife, only to realize he’d called TMZ’s attention to his own humiliation–he set out to start a new life. The NBC celebrity talk show Access Hollywood obliged with a makeover. The program helped Salahi trim down, color his hair, and get invisible braces to straighten his teeth. He emerged younger looking and more fit. But the biggest question surrounding the one-time vineyard owner, TV personality from Bravo’s The Real Housewives of D.C., and, most infamously, so-called White House gate-crasher was: what would the perpetually cash-strapped Tareq Salahi do to earn a living?

During his transformation period, Salahi was spotted in New York partying with self-proclaimed Manhattan madam Kristin Davis. The buxom, long-haired blonde claims to have supplied female escorts to high-end clients like former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Then, in early December, Salahi confessed to having a crush on another blonde, Kate Gosselin, of TLC’s reality TV series Kate Plus 8. There were reports that Salahi emailed his pals at Access Hollywood to get an introduction.

What no one knew at the time was that Tareq Salahi was apparently already in a steamy relationship with yet another blonde, a stunning and very wealthy woman from Greenwich, Conn., named Natasha Justina Pray. It’s a relationship, The Daily Beast has learned, that Salahi is now attempting to downplay for fear it will spoil his pending divorce proceeding as well as a $50 million defamation and conspiracy lawsuit against Schon and his estranged wife.

After numerous emails and phone calls requesting comment, Tareq Salahi’s attorney Georgia Rossiter responded over email: “My client and she are acquaintances.”

Natasha Justina Pray was born into a high-society family and is known around the tony town of Greenwich as a wild child of sorts. Today, Tina, as her friends call her, is a two-time divorcee and mother of two teens, who dedicates considerable time to charity and political causes. She is taut, tanned, beautiful, and an accomplished horsewoman and—are you ready for this?—she is one of the stars in an upcoming Bravo TV reality show called Miss Advised airing this fall. (It’s billed as a program that follows the private lives of three “relationship experts” to see whether they take their own advice.)

“I met Tareq at a thank you dinner given by [state]  Senator Greg Ball in White Plains, New York,” Pray told The Daily Beast in a series of exclusive interviews. “I was a volunteer for the campaign so I was invited … and Tareq was there, too.” Pray, who claims she never watched the Salahis during their Real Housewives stint, says she casually mentioned to Salahi that she was working on a TV project with Bravo.

“After we began to talk he stayed by my side the entire evening,” she said.

That night, about a week before Thanksgiving, Salahi invited her to his hotel room for a nightcap. Pray demurred, but she says the relationship quickly turned intimate. Salahi returned to Virginia the next morning because, he told Pray, he had to fly from there to California for business. When that plan suddenly fell through, Pray said, he immediately turned around and returned to see her in Connecticut.

“In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t me he was so eager to see but rather [to] be present in my home when Bravo shot. I had told him the first time we met that Bravo was coming to my home to shoot that day.” And now that their torrid three-month-long affair has cooled, Pray recalled, Tareq popped up another time the cameras were there to film her. “The second [occasion] was a cocktail party I was filmed at by Bravo. Tareq came to that as well. Makes one wonder!” Pray would ultimately come to believe Tareq was trying to “piggyback” off her Bravo show to get himself noticed.

“Tareq said in no uncertain terms that I will be called, subpoenaed by Michaele as part of the divorce proceeding,” said Pray.“He told me to lie about our relationship.”

Right before Thanksgiving, on Sunday, Nov. 20, Pray said, “Tareq flew me down to Washington to go to a Redskins football game, and then he asked me to stay the weekend. Since my children were going to be with their father for the holiday, I stayed,” she said with a shrug and a sweet smile.

Salahi took her to the home he had shared with Michaele for many years in nearby Linden, Va. They ate Thanksgiving dinner nearby, at the romantic Inn at Little Washington–the very spot Tareq had taken Michaele for their first date. When I visited Pray’s sumptuously appointed Greenwich home, she displayed the personalized plate and menus her paramour had made sure the Inn at Little Washington created just for her.

“Tareq treated me like gold,” Pray said. “He had impeccable manners. He was so much fun!” When asked how the unemployed Salahi had paid for the travel, the Redskins tickets, and an expensive dinner, Pray shrugged again and said, “Well, at dinner he pulled out this wad of cash.”

Not everything about that long weekend visit was romantic. One afternoon at Salahi’s country house, he had prepared a homemade meal of tacos that they enjoyed out on the back patio overlooking the home’s vast lawn. Suddenly, Pray became aware that someone had come in the front door.

“It was Michaele with a whole group of people. Her brother, her sister, a bodyguard …” Tina said counting off the people on one perfectly manicured hand. On Tareq’s instruction, she videotaped the scene on her iPhone. Pray shared that video with The Daily Beast, and on it Michaele is heard saying, “I just came to pick up my father’s medals. Tareq, shall I set up another day to come back for other things?”

As Michaele went from room to room, Pray recalled: “It was really awkward … my suitcase was in the master bedroom, my cosmetics case was in the bathroom. I felt really badly for Michaele. But she was very civil and very sweet [to me] … She said, ‘I’m glad you’re friends with Tareq.’  We hugged when she left.”

Tareq spent Christmas Eve and morning with Pray and her children in Connecticut and on Dec. 28, Tina received her holiday gift from him–an all-expenses paid, weeklong trip to Cancun.

“Tareq said we couldn’t travel together—alone—because of the divorce. So I paid for my girlfriend Jody from California to meet us there. Tareq paid me back.” They also met up with another couple—a polo buddy of Salahi’s named Doug and his girlfriend, Hanna.

“The idea was that we were going to film our own little reality show there,” Pray said. “Kind of like a Three’s Company, in the kitchen of the condo Tareq had rented for us. Tareq and me and Jody were going to be in it, and Tareq was going to present it to some network person as a show idea.” The filming never took place because, as Pray said, Salahi got an almost immediate case of Montezuma’s Revenge.

“Somehow though, Tareq always rallied at night and we went out to the clubs,” Pray said as she showed cell-phone pictures and video of their Cancun exploits. Salahi would call ahead and tell security at each club to get ready to escort an important American television personality in to a private table, accessible only if the customer agreed to buy two $250 bottles of liquor. She returned from Mexico with souvenirs, including bottles of liquor with custom labels of the happy couple cuddling while under Salahi’s black-and-white sombrero.

Tina Pray said she was attracted to Salahi because he was generous and fun loving and he seemed willing to share his reality-TV experience to help her manage her new career with Bravo. Apparently, she was unaware of the palpable tension Tareq Salahi had created with Bravo executives during production of The Real Housewives of D.C. And, when Tareq suggested they buy a Doberman pinscher puppy together and name it Maximillion, she had no way of knowing her new beau was repeating a habit begun years earlier with at least two other women. Both his estranged wife, Michaele, and a previous girlfriend had each helped raise a Doberman puppy with Salahi. Both of those Dobermans died within days of the relationships ending.

After the trip to Mexico, Salahi announced to Pray, she said, that they shouldn’t text or email each other in any substantive way. “He said to keep the relationship secret we should just talk on the phone. He told me if he was asked he would tell people he was just sharing his Bravo TV experience with me.”

Salahi then began to travel extensively—without her—to places like Beverly Hills, Central America, and, on Feb. 3, he posted on Facebook that he was on a train from Budapest to Prague. How he paid for all these trips is unknown to Pray, but she began to feel ignored.

As Valentine’s Day neared, Salahi and his Virginia-based lawyer focused on a plan to upgrade his original lawsuit against Michaele and Neal Schon from $17 million to a whopping $50 million. It was to be announced on Valentine’s Day, Pray revealed, as a way to take away attention from a new music video Journey was releasing that day that featured Michaele and Schon in romantic poses.

Pray remembers that she began slowly to change her mind about Salahi during that time. “I feel Tareq is trying to take advantage of me. I feel like I’m getting pulled into all his problems—the lawsuits, the depositions, the video mudslinging.” And, shockingly, Pray claims Salahi tried to manipulate her into agreeing to commit perjury for him. (Salahi and his attorney, Rossiter, were told specifically by The Daily Beast about this perjury allegation. Rossiter responded: “My client as [sic] not asked her to lie about anything he denies any such allegation.”)

Pray said: “Tareq said in no uncertain terms that I will be called, subpoenaed by Michaele as part of the divorce proceeding. He told me to lie about our relationship … because under Virginia law his whole lawsuit could get tossed out if it was known that we were intimate.”

A matrimonial lawyer from Virginia, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Beast, “Being intimate with another might hurt any divorce case, but not necessarily be a cause for dismissal. However, anyone who attempts to suborn perjury in a case in Virginia runs the risk of sanctions and one of those sanctions could be dismissal of their case.”

Pray said that Salahi’s pressure—and the fact that he forgot her on Valentine’s Day—caused her to break up with him, in a Feb. 25 email.

“I guess you don’t get it,” she wrote him. “You fly across the world—twice—but can’t come see me. I’m disappointed and have, well frankly, lost interest. I will not lie if I’m deposed. You have given me no reason to believe we are a couple anymore. So—Goodbye, Tareq.”

As for what Tareq Salahi might do with his life going forward, Pray noted he recently updated his Facebook identification to read “Actor/Director.” He told Pray he was very disappointed that Donald Trump decided not to include him in the latest Celebrity Apprentice cast, but he still holds out hope that he might be featured on Millionaire Matchmaker, onyou guessed it–the Bravo network.

An NBC Universal/Bravo executive, asked about the possibility that Salahi would be hired again, responded with a terse, “Absolutely not.”