By BOB LEWIS
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Tareq Salahi, a Virginia vintner who achieved notoriety for crashing a White House party and later saw his wife run off with a guitarist for the rock band Journey, now says he will run as a Republican for governor of Virginia.
In a move that provoked rolled eyes and guffaws within Richmond’s political chattering classes, Salahi filled out and submitted a candidacy declaration Tuesday. It came one day after another GOP candidate for governor, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, sued Salahi and his winery. The suit claims they cheated customers who bought winery tours.
Salahi’s declaration of candidacy is meaningless until Jan. 1. Virginia law prohibits the State Board of Elections from accepting the declarations until the year in which the elections are scheduled, said board senior official Chris Piper.
Salahi and his wife, Michaele, breezed in uninvited to a White House state dinner in 2009, and were able to meet President Barack Obama. Their brazen exploit sparked concern about the Secret Service’s effectiveness.
The notoriety also landed Michaele a role in the reality television series “Real Housewives of D.C.,” which was canceled after one season. Later, she was kicked off another reality program, “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” when it became clear she was addicted to nothing more than the spotlight.
In more attention grabbing last year, Tareq Salahi reported that his wife had been abducted. But she had actually run off with Neal Schon, the lead guitarist for Journey. A $50 million lawsuit Tareq filed against Michaele over the breakup was dismissed.
There was no reply Wednesday to telephone messages and emails The Associated Press left for Salahi and his publicist.
Word that he had filled out a candidacy declaration was first reported on the celebrity site TMZ, and produced levity in Richmond.
Ray Allen, a Repbulican senior adviser to U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s 2013 gubernatorial bid, couldn’t finish a sentence during an interview without laughing.
Salahi’s only ties to politics — other than his unbidden White House visit — has been as a donor to candidates. Of the $36,723 the new Republican has given to state and federal candidates since 1998, more than four-fifths went to Democrats. Talk about party-crashing.
The lawsuit the attorney general’s office filed Monday accuses Salahi and his Virginia Wine Tourism Inc. and Celebration Entertainment Productions LLC of not delivering tours as promised, not providing refunds for tours they canceled and misrepresenting reputable businesses as “official partners.”
The companies offer tours of wineries through the web site VirginiaWineTour.com that range from $200 to $1,350 per day; more for weeklong charters.
The complaint alleges that Salahi and his companies violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. Cuccinelli said the litigation was filed based on complaints filed with the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs and the Better Business Bureau, and an investigation by his office.
Two months earlier, Salahi settled another lawsuit Cuccinelli had filed alleging that Salahi’s nonprofit Journey for the Cure Foundation had made false statements, submitted inaccurate financial statements and solicited donations without being registered with the state.
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