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December 2, 2009
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White House party crashers made mark in Aspen

ASPEN - New Castle rancher Barry Stout can now say he has something in common with President Obama, and it has nothing to do with the war in Afghanistan or the health care debate.

Like Obama, it's doubtful Stout will be inviting Michaele and Tareq Salahi over for dinner any time soon. Not after the couple, who've earned the dubious distinction as the "White House party crashers," allegedly stiffed Stout to the tune of $19,500 for their entry into last year's World Snow Polo Championship, held Dec. 20-21, 2008, in Aspen.

"They kind of put me in the starve mode," said Stout, who runs the Roaring Fork Polo Club, which played host to the event. The event returns to Aspen's Wagner Park Dec. 17-20.

Stout's comments came Tuesday, the same day the couple told NBC's "Today" show that they did not crash the White House state dinner last week for the visiting Indian prime minister.

Stout said the couple put down a $3,000 deposit that went toward the tournament's $22,500 entry fee. He said he allowed the Salahis' Team Land Rover to participate in the event because he needed a fourth team.

Tareq Salahi was a member of Team Land Rover, while his wife helped organize the team. The couple apparently made the most of their Aspen visit, receiving a complimentary stay at The St. Regis Resort Aspen, rubbing elbows with the likes of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and posing for party pictures all over town.

"I could tell they were really into the camera," said Andrew Israel, proprietor of aspenspin.com, an Aspen lifestyle blog that publishes photos featuring everyone from socialites to ski bums. "They were very nice and seemed well-bred and well-groomed."

Aspen resident Mari Rainer said she and another friend sipped cocktails with the couple in the St. Regis lobby. During the hour-long visit, the couple came off as "gregarious and extremely outgoing and friendly," Rainer recalled. Michaele seemed especially interested in having her picture taken, Rainer said.

"She was constantly posing for pictures everywhere," Rainer said. "And her clothes were not clothes someone would wear who did not want to be noticed."

Basalt resident and polo buff Allan Shaffer said he got to know the couple fairly well. He worked with them on polo events in Washington, D.C. Shaffer said he wouldn't be surprised if the couple was able to attend the White House state dinner simply because of the people they know.

"I can say they were very well-connected to Washington, D.C.," he said. "My feeling is that they are so connected in Washington that they probably knew half the people in line waiting to get in, so security could have seen them talking to other people in line, and it could have been an oversight. I wouldn't be surprised if they even knew the security agents."

In any case, the Secret Service will change some of its screening policies after the couple was able to crash the Obama administration's first state dinner, The Associated Press has reported.

According to the report, a government official familiar with the plans says from now on, a staff member from the White House social office will work with the Secret Service at the gates where people check in to attend official events at the president's residence. The White House says the president and first lady were angered by the incident.

Back in the Roaring Fork Valley, Stout said he has given up on collecting the debt.

"I realize that just from the way they were doing business that it would be a waste of time to sue them," he said. "I'm sure we could get a judgment, but then we'd have to try and collect the money."

Stout said he was not surprised when the Salahi couple's White House appearance made headlines last week.

"They are publicity seekers, and it doesn't surprise me a bit," he said. "I hope they prosecute them."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 2, 2009 02:25PM Published Dec 2, 2009 02:24PM Copyright 2009 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.