Here’s what we know about how Carlos Allen, the latest White House party crasher, wound up at Barack Obama’s first state dinner:
Five days before the event, Allen told a friend that he’d received an invitation from the White House to dine with the prime minister of India. In retrospect, it was an odd claim. Allen wasn’t famous, a big political donor, or Indian. He wasn’t even, it seemed, fully employed. Yet he gave no hint that he was surprised to have been invited. Nor was Allen’s friend surprised to hear it. Allen, she later said, seemed like the kind of guy who might be asked to have dinner with Hillary Clinton and Deepak Chopra.
The evening of the event, Allen didn’t go directly to the White House. He stopped first at the Willard Hotel a few blocks away because, in what his lawyer describes as a “purely coincidental” act, he had to use the men’s room. As Allen was looking for the john, a group of Indian business executives were gathering in the hotel to depart for the dinner. For reasons that remain unclear, Allen joined them. Together Allen and the Indian CEOs passed through a Secret Service security checkpoint, climbed into a State Department van and drove to the West Wing.
Invited or not, Allen certainly looked the part. Unlike most of the other attendees, including Obama himself, Allen wore the more formal white tie rather than black. And unlike other guests that night, Allen did not enter the building through the side entrance. He walked, confidently and alone, through the front door. Affixed to his lapel was an official-looking pin with what appeared to be the presidential seal. Allen later told friends it was a gift from his wife, who worked at the State Department.
Once inside, Allen got to work. Using a camera he’d brought, he orchestrated a number of pictures of himself with famous people, including Hillary Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Colin Powell, David Axelrod and Nancy Pelosi. Though there was no place setting for him, Allen somehow convinced White House staff to seat him at a table with, among others, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts. He sat next to the ambassador to Belize.
At some point during the evening, he updated his Facebook status from the dinner. He also used his cell phone to call a friend. His first words (needless to say): “Guess where I am?’’
When he got home that night, Allen posted photos from his evening to his Facebook account. Then, two days later, news broke that Michaele and Tareq Salahi had crashed the dinner. Allen immediately pulled his photos offline. (They are still not public, though as of this weekend Allen’s lawyer was trying to sell them to news organizations.) Allen seemed to know the jig was up. On Thanksgiving night he called an associate to rant about the Salahi’s foolishness, which he believed was likely to jeopardize him. He called Michaele a “publicity whore.”
At about the same time, the White House was scrambling to figure out what, exactly, had just happened. Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, the person in charge of the event, had been an attendee herself, walking the red carpet and likely too distracted to keep track of guests. (Since Obama’s staff has refused to comply with a subpoena from Congress requesting her testimony, we may never know what she was doing that night.) To this day, the White House still has not provided a comprehensive list of who was at the party, and may be unable to.
The morning after the dinner, the White House social office couldn’t even find the Salahis’ phone number. Deputy Social Secretary Ebs Burnough contacted a local PR consultant with Democratic ties and asked her to gather information on the crashers, beginning with their contact information. The consultant began text-messaging friends for help.
In the month and a half since, both the Salahis and Carlos Allen have been interviewed by the Secret Service (and in the Salahi’s case, possibly by a grand jury, since they may be facing charges of lying to a federal official). Countless stories have been written about the crashers, accompanied by pictures of all three inside the building. And yet, as of last week, the White House social office still had no idea how Allen got in the front door. The Secret Service and the State Department refuse to acknowledge he was even there.
All of which seems pretty incompetent. On the other hand, it isn’t easy to get straight answers to questions about Carlos Allen. Consider, for example, the matter of what he does for a living. After talking to eight separate people who know him, and speaking to Allen himself three times briefly on the phone, I still can only guess.
Records indicate that at one point Allen ran (or said he ran) something called AFS Mortgage, which is listed in a federal directory as eligible for set-asides as “Black American Owned.” He told one associate that the business went under in the recent mortgage crisis, causing him to lose $9 million.
Another press release posted on the Web describes Allen as a successful clothing designer. “Whenever Carlos Allen’s marvelous creations are on display, a mist of wonder hangs in the air,” it announces. “Some of the most beautiful people in the world have shined in Carlos Allen’s Hush Clothing Designs.” The release describes Allen as “dividing his time between D.C., Atlanta and New York courting the muse in the fabric of beauty of France, Italy and California to the every day delight of people everywhere.”
Still another online posting touts Allen as a “marketing expert and wealth-making educator” who can teach you “HOW TO MAKE $1000.00 A DAY AT HOME IN YOUR PJ’S!”
What’s certain is that Allen ran, and may still run, a group called HUSH, an acronym for “Help Us Support Humanity.” (“Contact Us To Learn More!”) HUSH billed itself as a for-profit charity, though every person I spoke to with knowledge of it admitted that the group hadn’t raised much of anything for charitable causes. Mostly they threw parties — acting, as the promotional literature put it, as “an exclusive and luxurious private social club whose members enjoy unparalleled access to elite movers and shakers.”
Allen had the keys to a house on 18th Street in Washington, where from time to time HUSH held parties. Since his picture hit the papers, there has been a great deal of speculation about what sort of parties Allen was throwing there. Several of his friends describe them as restrained and fully clothed affairs. Others doubt that.
Last year, Allen ran several ads on Craigslist “looking for Models and Interns.” Allen said he wanted “male and female models of all ethnicities that have an exotic or international look, an opportunity for upcoming upscale events. Male models must be athletic built. Female models must be height and weight proportional. Please email a photo, no less than 1 year old, with your inquiry.” One ad requested that models wear “black pencil skirts” and “fishnet stockings.”
Sharmila Viswasam worked at HUSH fulltime for 10 months as “director of public relations.” She says she had no idea Allen was trolling Craigslist for models. Viswasam does concede that Allen “always told us he didn’t have a squeaky clean record.” Still, she looks shocked as the ads are read aloud.
Viswasam met Carlos Allen soon after leaving her last job, at the University of Phoenix. Though she worked for him for the better part of a year, she says she never received a salary or even payment, and continued to live with her parents in suburban Maryland.
But the parties were great. She and Allen went to the BET Awards, a Ray Lewis Foundation dinner, and an event hosted by the AFL-CIO. At one dinner she and Allen had their pictures taken with Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. “I have a black book full of business cards,” she says. “The lifestyle of HUSH was to be in the limelight, in luxury. If you knew us before this, you’d love us. We had groupies.”
Even now that the groupies have disappeared, Viswasam describes Allen as “a mentor, a father figure.” Her eyes fill with tears as she remembers his rap. “He was like, ‘We’re going to be rich. We’re going to be wealthy.’ And I believed him. He was a millionaire …”
Maybe. He certainly was a talented and compulsive gate crasher. Last month, well after the state dinner that made him famous, Allen drove out to northern Virginia to attend an event in an office park near the mall. The door fee was $25. A friend accompanying Allen reached into her purse for the money. But not Allen. “No way I’m paying that,” he told her. Bulling his way through the front door, he walked in for free.