RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — Virginia’s attorney general went after White House party crasher Tareq Salahi for a second time on Monday, this time claiming Salahi cheated customers who purchased wine tours from his companies in northern Virginia.
Ken Cuccinelli filed the lawsuit in Fauquier County Circuit Court. It comes two months after the attorney general reached a settlement with Salahi and his Journey for the Cure Foundation over accusations the nonprofit made false statements, submitted inaccurate financial statements and solicited donations without being registered with the state.
Salahi and his wife, Michaele, gained notoriety in 2009 when they crashed a White House state dinner and were able to meet President Barack Obama.
The lawsuit 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.”
An attorney who represented Salahi in the past did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Cuccinelli’s office said Salahi is the sole officer, director and presumed sole owner of Virginia Wine Tourism and the presumed sole member and manager of Celebration Entertainment Productions.
The companies offer tours of wineries through the web site VirginiaWineTour.com that can range from $200 to $1,350 per day and more for weeklong charters.
Cuccinelli accuses Salahi and his companies of violating the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits the deception of consumers. He said in a statement that the lawsuit was filed based on complaints filed with the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs and the Better Business Bureau and an investigation by his office.
Some customers reported their tours were cancelled the morning they were scheduled to begin due to a “vehicle malfunction,” and that some never heard from the company again. Some complained they were not taken to the wineries they were promised or that the mode of transportation wasn’t what was advertised. Others complained that refunds, even those promised in writing, were never delivered.
Cuccinelli said VirginiaWineTour.com’s web site also displayed logos of several businesses as “official partners,” including United Airlines, the Bed and Breakfast Association of Virginia and Facebook, but that he had reason to believe that many, if not all, were not partners.
In the lawsuit, Cuccinelli asks for civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation and requests that VirginiaWineTour.com be required to return money to those are deemed to have been defrauded.
In Cuccinelli’s settlement with Salahi’s Journey for the Cure Foundation in February, the attorney general claimed that the organization used only 33 percent of its funds in 2007 and less than 1 percent of its funds in 2008 for disease prevention-related charities, while a significant amount was spent on fundraising overhead costs. The charity was formed to support people with diseases such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, leukemia and lymphoma, and claimed on its website that 100 percent of its financing went to charity.
The charity agreed to pay $32,500 in civil penalties and attorney fees, while Salahi had to pay $2,500 in civil penalties. Both the charity and Salahi are prohibited from further violations of Virginia Solicitation of Contributions laws.
The publicity-seeking couple has stayed in the spotlight since the state dinner incident. Michaele Salahi was a cast member of the reality show “Real Housewives of D.C.,” but the show was canceled after one season. She was thrown off the reality show “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” when it became apparent she wasn’t addicted to anything.
Last year, Tareq reported that his wife had been abducted but it turned out she had run off with Journey guitarist Neal Schon, who was then 57-year-old. Tareq later sued Michaele for $50 million, claiming her affair with the guitarist was part of a calculated attempt to make money for herself and the band at his expense.
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