Carlos Allen makes the media rounds, talking about the White House state dinner

By Amy Argetsinger and Mary Jordan
Saturday, January 16, 2010; C01

Carlos Allen, the man who sat down to eat at a White House state dinner without an official invitation, was talking in his attorney's office this week about the now-infamous November night that exposed troubling gaps in presidential security and launched a federal investigation.

"The only thing I regretted at the end of the night," he said, "was that they didn't have no dancing."

"Any dancing," his lawyer corrected, but even he laughed as Allen, eyes twinkling, kept up the shtick: He had really wanted to shake it with Michelle Obama, and maybe Hillary Clinton, too.

"With all due respect to President Obama, I know he can't dance," Allen said. "I wanted to show him up. . . . I can dance. Dancing is my thing."

That's Carlos Allen for you. Fellow non-invitees Tareq and Michaele Salahi -- whom Allen insists he barely knows -- have mostly hunkered down since their scandal broke, giving a single tense interview to NBC's "Today" show and pleading the Fifth Amendment with a congressional committee. Allen, though, has held forth on "Good Morning America," "Inside Edition," "Larry King Live" and to The Washington Post, radiating the sunny confidence of a smooth salesman who once threw swanky parties to hype his (now defunct) mortgage business.

With so much at stake -- a federal grand jury is probing the Salahi matter and feds say Allen's case is under investigation -- why the heck is he even opening his mouth?

His lawyer insists that Allen, 39, has nothing to hide: Just a guy in a tux who walked up to an agent, cleared a metal detector, boarded a van with an Indian delegation and rode straight up to the White House door. And then asked a staffer, "Where do I sit?" Simple as that.

"He may have more chutzpah than most people," said attorney A. Scott Bolden. "He may be more naive than most people. But he's not a gate-crasher."

Learning to fit in

Who is he then? The polo-playing Salahis had some local notoriety before they walked the White House red carpet -- a winery feud, a reality-show tryout, a swath of messy lawsuits. Allen was largely unknown outside his social circle and Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

In a two-hour interview with The Post, he presented himself as a self-invented man who, at the moment, is broke. Born in Colon, Panama, to native parents, he immigrated to the United States at age 6. His father was in the U.S. Army, and his childhood was spent on bases -- New York, Germany, Georgia.

At high school in Hinesville, Ga., near Fort Stewart, Allen was into hip-hop, break-dancing, Adidas shell tops.

Then his dad moved him to Columbus, Ga., near Fort Benning. "It was Sebagos, polo shirts, Dockers -- I couldn't believe these people were so nerdy!" For a year, he couldn't get a date. Then, "I said to my mom, 'Let's get some polo shirts.' . . . Then the females started coming."

Carlos 3.0 emerged a year or so later, after a teacher counseled him about his potential. "From then on, I started wearing suits," said Allen. He was 17. (He met Post reporters in dark charcoal with a faint stripe, jeweled monogram cufflinks -- "not real diamonds" -- and pale blue silk tie.) "To be successful you have to look the part. You might be broke but if you look good, they don't know you're broke unless you tell them."

He took a few college business classes, he said, but left for D.C. when his father was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center after a stroke. Working as a teenage bank teller, he found himself with a lousy credit rating. But after hitting the library, he says, he figured out how to clear up his record and started earning a living by fixing other people's credit. In the booming late '90s, he turned his company into a mortgage brokerage.

Somewhere along the way -- he's hazy on when -- he got married. "My wife, even though we're estranged, is still number one," he said. And as the real-estate market tanked, their mortgage business failed. He tried launching a clothing line. His Web site still features a flier for a seminar he promoted: "how to make $1,000 a day from home."

"I was broke," he said. Then a year ago, he said, he heard a call in the night: Whatever you are doing, you need to change your ways. He had been throwing parties in his Mount Pleasant rowhouse -- Hush Mansion, he called it -- and decided he would heed the message and "take it from something negative to positive."

Yeah, about that word "Hush" . . . What did that mean? "It meant, 'Shhhh, be quiet, let's have a party,' " Allen said.

And . . . what did "negative" stuff mean? Anything to do with the blog rumblings that "Hush" was code for some kind of risque activity . . . ? "I'm not going to entertain questions about what I've done in my private life," Allen replied cordially, as his lawyer rolled his eyes and groaned, for not the first time in the interview.

Allen said he decided to keep throwing parties, but for a purpose. (He's a host who is "nice to people," he said. Some Washington hosts are "so snobby, like their stuff don't stink!")

So anyway. Last year "HUSH" became an acronym -- "Help Us Support Humanity" -- for what he envisioned as an online society magazine celebrating philanthropic efforts. is a bit unpolished: gushing write-ups of a few parties padded out with random news stories. Some of the parties he hosted himself; many of the photos are of Allen. He admits he has not yet made any money from it, but under the Hush name, he launched a Thanksgiving food drive that he said raised $1,900 and fed 100 families.

The Hush connection

It was this fledgling Web site that Allen said he believed was his entree to the White House. He said he wrote to the social secretary's office in October asking for a state dinner invitation, then got something in the mail that he thought was an official invitation.

"I was happy but I wasn't shocked because I get invited to a lot of things," he said.

The letter is now in Secret Service hands, Allen said, though he has shown reporters pictures he took of it. A Post comparison found it looks nothing like official invitations but closely resembles an inside page of the dinner program guests were allowed to take from the White House.

The Secret Service had announced last week that it was investigating a third uninvited guest who had come into the White House with Indian businessmen who had been assembled at the Willard Hotel by the State Department and been cleared by agents. Allen's story is that he went to the White House with his "invite," but was turned away because he was too early. He said he ended up at the Willard by chance -- he had to use the bathroom -- and found himself mingling with a fancily dressed crowd preparing to head to the White House. In white tie and one of his three tuxes, he certainly looked the part.

"I showed an invitation," he said. "I got in with an invitation. I was seated with an invitation."

The White House and the Secret Service have declined to comment on Allen's claims, citing the criminal investigation. The U.S. Attorney's Office has also declined to comment.

When the Salahi story broke, Allen said he realized he also was not on the publicly released guest list, and pulled his photos from the dinner off his Web site and Facebook. Weeks later, he said, he got a call from the Secret Service.

He immediately volunteered that he had attended the state dinner -- but the agents refused to believe him, he said. He said they told him to describe the White House, then told him he had it wrong.

"For 45 minutes they called me a liar," he said. "I started believing that I didn't go to the White House. I said, 'Okay, you're right, I did not go to the White House.' "

Two days later, he said, an agent called and said a mistake had been made. He had now seen video of Allen walking into the White House. Allen's lawyer says his client is continuing to cooperate with the investigation.

So that's Carlos Allen's story. There's enough little weird things about it to fuel the conspiracy theories hatched by Google-crazed amateur sleuths. Like the State Department lapel pin he wore to the White House and to every interview since.

"I got this from my wife," he said, and he wears it to show "I love my country."

Allen's wife is a computer tech at the State Department, but no, he insists, she had nothing to do with him getting into the White House. No connections with the Indian delegation or the Embassy, no one on the inside to help, he said. And no theories to offer about where that what-he-thought-was-an-invitation came from.

Just a guy with a tux, and either chutzpah or naivete, who went to the White House and had a great time, even if he didn't get to dance.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company