Hardly a week goes by without some new controversy surrounding the pending divorce of the so-called White House Gate Crashers, Tareq and Michaele Salahi. Tareq has been quoted as calling his wife a “groupie slut,” a “liar,” and a socialite who lived a lifestyle way beyond their means. Since Michaele fled their Hume, Virginia, home in mid-September, countless overblown and breathless stories have run on celebrity gossip blogs and websites. TMZ has led the pack by running dozens of snarky stories—all from the husband’s point of view.
It began with Tareq’s dramatic announcement that Michaele had been kidnapped by a stalker, then the revelation that she had, in fact, gone back to a former flame, guitarist Neal Schon of the band Journey. Day after day there was a stream of anti-Michaele news. She left when their dog was near death, Tareq cried. When Rio the Doberman died a few days later, pictures of the burial appeared with the headline: “I Lost Two Bitches in One Week!” Somehow video of Michaele in bed with the dog, the couples’ pre-nup agreement, and their divorce papers all found their way to the Internet.
Cash-strapped Tareq is the likely suspect for the leaked (or sold) information, but he and his attorney have refused all Daily Beast requests for comment. For her part, Michaele Salahi has issued no public statements—until now.
During several long conversations, Michaele made it clear she does not want to fight, she isn’t bitter, and she just wants to live a peaceful life after eight tumultuous years with Tareq Salahi. When asked whether she has a message for her soon-to-be ex she said, “Tareq, I wish you the happiness I have now.”
Michaele’s divorce papers were quietly filed in Warren County, Va. on December 20, 2011. The next day, TMZ’s headline screamed: “Michaele: Tareq Was a Violent Rageaholic” who “employs psychotic scare tactics to terrorize!” Other celeb websites quickly repeated the over-the-top language, making Michaele look every bit of an over-wrought drama queen.
In reality, Michaele Salahi’s five-page court filing is fairly low-key in its claims. “During the summer of 2011 the defendant demonstrated outbursts of rage, smashing objects; on one occasion he was physically violent toward the plaintiff, putting both hands on the sides of her head, shaking her head, and yelling at her.”
On Christmas day, TMZ ran another widely repeated Salahi item that quoted Tareq’s court papers, claiming that his wife had sex with Schon in his concert hall dressing room while Tareq and a friend waited nearby. Tareq offered as “proof” a quotation found in my Daily Beast article from Sept. 19 in which Schon described how elated he was to discover Michaele still loved him: “Schon says, ‘I have tennis shoes on and she's, like, nine feet tall over me. And she looks down at me like she's standing on stilts and says, 'I love you. And that's never gonna change.' And when that happened I said, 'Get over here! This has taken 15 years!'"
Nowhere in the article was a sex act mentioned and both Schon and Michaele deny any occurred. “The backstage was full of people,” Schon told The Daily Beast recently. “Sex in a room full of people? My bandmates right there? Come on!”
Michaele explained what she thinks caused her to marriage to crumble. The death of Tareq’s beloved father, Dirgham, in October 2010 weighed heavily on Tareq, she said. There was a bitter, years-long financial dispute with his mother over who controlled the family winery. And, with each mounting economic pressure, including a court-ordered bankruptcy auction at the winery scheduled for late September, he “just became impossibly controlling.”
The last straw for Michaele happened right before the forced auction. “Tareq was freaked out about the 9/11 anniversary and he didn’t want me to go out … he worried about kidnapping. I told him I was just going to get my hair done and run a few errands and I’d be back in three hours.” Five hours later, when she returned to their isolated country house, the outside security lights were off, the front door was bolted shut, no lights were on inside, and Tareq didn’t answer the phone. Michaele also couldn’t get the automatic garage door to open. She said, “It was so spooky! I drove back down the hill to the gas station to figure out what to do.”
On her second try, the garage door suddenly opened and she says she entered the three-story home groping for light switches.
“I finally found Tareq downstairs sitting in darkness in the theater room, holding the dog back from greeting me,” Michaele said. “He yelled at me that he just wanted to scare me and teach me a lesson so I knew how scared he had been because I was late.” Tareq’s increasingly erratic behavior, including taking her car keys and wallet so she couldn’t leave the house after that, caused her to flee two days later. On Sept. 13, Michaele got a lift to the airport and boarded a plane to join Schon on his concert tour.
In the spring and summer of 2010, when the “Gate Crashers” scandal was in full bloom, I traveled to Virginia to spend private research time with the couple for a book I was writing. I spent days with the Salahis inside their home, touring the winery, attending dinners and social events with them in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and New York. In short, I had an insider’s view of their dynamic and their relationships with outsiders.
They were always outwardly fun-loving and smiling, but there seemed to be no peace in that house. There was always some self-destructive, percolating drama beneath the surface of their lives and, in this reporter’s opinion, Tareq was the instigator. From the never-ending string of lawsuits filed against them to simmering fights with TV producers on the set of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of D.C. program—Michaele was a castmember and Tareq was always by her side—the controversy was constantly fueled by Tareq’s obstinate behavior.
Forty-two year-old Tareq displayed an almost childlike need to be the smart guy in the room, the one in control. While he had a sense of how to make money, he also exhibited a disturbing pattern of finding specious excuses for why he didn’t need to pay his bills. “The caterer ran out of food,” he told me about a polo event he’d sponsored, as if that were enough of a reason not to pay for any of the food served that day. As I got to know Tareq better, after publication of my book, Cirque du Salahi, I came to believe he was used to getting his way–or else!
When Michaele needed to go to Los Angeles for the Television Critics Association press tour gathering as part of the cast commitment for Real Housewives, Tareq was told it was a girls-only trip. He demanded a first class ticket to go with his wife anyway, telling me that because of Michaele’s multiple sclerosis he had to travel with her to help her navigate the airports. Michaele confided that she had recently fallen down inside the airport in Las Vegas and was fearful of traveling alone with a cast of women who clearly didn’t like her and didn’t yet know about her M.S.
Tareq found a benefactor to pony up an airline ticket so he could go, and, with TV critics gathered in the bar of a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant, he tossed a glass of red wine on cast member Lynda Erkiletian’s couture dress. Tareq had told a mutual acquaintance ahead of time that he planned to “get back” at Erkiletian for being mean to Michaele on Real Housewives. The conference ended with Tareq Salahi in the headlines and several cast members announcing they would not do another season if the Salahis were involved.
As producers for the now canceled Real Housewives of D.C. planned a classy wrap party for the end of the first season, Tareq sat at their cherry- wood dining room table in Virginia with his laptop and cell phone in hand and schemed to put together something. “Bigger, better, more fun!” he said to me. “This is what I do! Just watch me!”
He and a party-planner pal came up with the idea of renting the Daughters of the American Revolution Hall near the White House. They would get a liquor distributor or other corporate sponsor to foot some of the cost with the rest covered by sales of “premium tickets” for those who wanted to “celebrate with the Salahis in a private reception room.” The flyer for the event included the copyrighted Real Housewives name and the NBC/Bravo logo. It didn’t take long before the NBC legal department was on the phone telling Tareq why they wouldn’t permit it.
The stymied Tareq fumed for the rest of the day, announcing that “their star, Michaele” would not attend the official wrap party. And she didn’t. The Salahis celebrated at a disco-pumping gay club in D.C. instead.
Michaele, of course, was complicit in her husband’s actions. She constantly made excuses for him and went along with his over-the-top schemes. She confided to me that Tareq’s controlling ways made her future with him impossible. And it became clear to me that Michaele had been going along to get along in the relationship, even during the couple’s painful bankruptcy and near eviction from their home.
“I never knew anything about our finances,” she said. “Tareq always told me not to worry about it.”
(The tabloid stories that her adultery with Neal Schon now makes her ineligible for any of the Salahi money seem laughable.)
Michaele and Schon now live in Schon’s five-bedroom hillside home on 10 acres of land in Northern California. Schon said, “I love this woman with all my heart. I just want to get on with our lives! Michaele and I waited too long to get back together.”
As Michaele continues to struggle to fully split from Tareq (who is reported to have spent the holidays filming a new TV dating show in Cabo San Lucas), Schon grapples with Ava Fabian, his last girlfriend.
Fabian had told friends that she and Schon were married in Paris last year, yet her recently filed palimony suit mentions no marriage. She is seeking money for her services and lost wages (she was the August 1986 Playboy Playmate of the Month and an occasional actress) along with half of all money Schon earned during their two years together, including from his last concert tour. (Fabian did not respond to requests for comment.)
Seems neither of the jilted lovers plans to make it easy for the new couple.