In court, party crashers agree to settle debt with watch

That infamous Salahi couple, the alleged White House gate-crashers, brought the media circus to Front Royal, Va., this morning.

Michaele and Tareq Salahi showed up at the Warren County courthouse and Tareq left three hours later without his watch.

Back last December, a judge had ordered the couple to pay their onetime landscaper and his lawyer about $2,000. The Salahis never paid. So back they had to come to the courthouse, about seven miles from their home on the edge of town, compelled to answer questions under oath from the landscaper’s lawyer about their finances. Camped outside was a crowd of 20 reporters and photographers, eager to get shots of the socialites.

The pair shot quickly into the building at 8:30 a.m., 30 minutes before they were due to appear in the district court’s one courtroom. Both they and their lawyer, David Silek, of Manassas, Va., declined to answer questions from the media.

At 9:01 a.m., Judge Dale Houff swore the couple in. Then, Daniel Pond, the lawyer for landscaper Mike Dunbar, segregated the couple into two witness rooms and asked them individually about their ability to pay. Special paper had been put in the windows to prevent outsiders from peering inside.

In 2008, the judge had ordered the Salahis to pay Dunbar $925, and added $900 in attorney’s fees and $53 in court costs, plus 6 percent interest. Today, the Salahis offered a few different payment plans for the bill. What the parties settled on was this: Tareq Salahi was wearing a Patek Philippe Geneve watch. The parties agreed that the watch could be sold to generate the cash.

Under the law, the landscaper could demand almost whatever valuables they had on them.

After the Salahis’ attorney walked back and forth between the two rooms several times, Dunbar decided that the best thing would be to have the watch sold, then collect what he’s owed from the proceeds after verifying and authenticating the watch. Patek Philippe Geneve is an expensive brand known for its quality and history and prestige.

The two parties still couldn’t agree on exactly how the sale would go. At 10:56 a.m., both lawyers went back into the courtroom. The Salahis, who had moved into a witness room together, stayed there.

The judge said there was no question that Dunbar, 43 of Front Royal, was entitled to the watch. The Salahis’ attorney said the watch would be worth more than the amount owed, but he said he had no idea how much it would fetch if someone put it on Ebay. The judge said the clerk’s office could hold onto the watch until the lawyers worked out the best way to sell it.

At 11:13 a.m., landscaper Dunbar walked out to take questions from the assembled press. But when the Salahis walked out the front doors about 90 seconds later, all the assembled reporters began running after them.

Michaele Salahi wore large sunglasses, and she walked a pace ahead of her husband as reporters shouted out questions. They responded to none. She tugged on his hand as they walked briskly down Main Street and took refuge inside a law office. Reporters quickly ran to the back parking lot, where the Salahis’ Audi — with temporary tags — was sitting.

As reporters staked out the front and back entrances of the law office, a police officer came and ticketed the Audi for an expired inspection sticker.

At 11:44 a.m., a Front Royal police officer came into the law office to escort them out. A minute later, the locks clicked on the car and the Salahis jumped in to drive away. Tareq Salahi looked peeved when he grabbed the ticket from under his windshield wiper.

Dunbar told the assembled press: “Right here, right now, it doesn’t feel like anything because I still don’t have my money.”

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