When John Arundel planned a week-long trip to Nantucket with friends this summer, he never imagined that two days later he would find himself in a jail cell, arrested on multiple charges, including strangulation.
Like most Nantucket stories, this Nantucket story is really a D.C. story. On August 16, Arundel, a divorcé from Washington, attended a boozy dinner at Nantucket’s Cru restaurant, a WASP equivalent of Sant Ambroeus, with his friend the Arizona congressman Ruben Gallego, and the attorney and domestic-violence advocate (and 2013 Miss District of Columbia Latina winner) Gilda Villela, whom Arundel was dating at the time. Also at the table were Natalie Khawam, the maverick and lawyer and socialite, and her friends Charles Borrero, an attorney, and Kevin Bates, a Massachusetts state trooper.
By the end of the night, local Nantucket police had answered a domestic-disturbance call at 4 Lavender Lane, Arundel’s rental. According to a police report and statements obtained by AIR MAIL,Villela told police that she’d been strangled by Arundel; Khawam and Borrero served as corroborating witnesses.
Arundel, who was arrested on the spot, denies the accusations. “Falsely accused men have rights too,” he said in a press statement, “and we will submit all of this as evidence, and expect full vindication from the court.”
Arundel, 57, prides himself on his network of high-powered friends. He is the son of Virginia publishing giant and philanthropist Arthur “Nick” Arundel, who founded and hosted the state’s prestigious Gold Cup horse race on land he preserved near the Plains, about an hour’s drive from Washington. John followed in his father’s footsteps, pursuing a career in journalism writing for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Miami Herald before taking a job as an associate publisher for Washington Life in 2009.
Over more than a decade at the D.C. society magazine, Arundel mingled with politicians, billionaires, and Hollywood stars. “He was a photo grabber,” one person told me. Arundel’s Instagram features photographs of him with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Jeff Bezos to Miss Worlds 2018 and 2022, plus Miss World Europe 2022. And he profiled Donald Trump, a Washington Life aficionado, in October of 2010, for the magazine’s Access Pollywood section.
For Arundel, who dabbled in P.R., those high-profile connections were important. Especially when the side hustle turned into a full-time job in 2020, following a long period of disagreement with the owners of Washington Life, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Two thousand and twenty was quite the year for Arundel. That March, his ex-wife, Christine Hancock reported their 17-year-old son to Missing and Exploited Children, alleging on the platform and on Facebook that Arundel had kidnapped him. In his own Facebook post, Arundel wrote, “My son … is safe and well, sheltering in place, after he and his mother had a disagreement and she kicked him out a month ago. He is not missing.” Ultimately, the dispute was resolved outside of the court system, and the parents maintain joint custody of their son.
Arundel now works at Perdicus Communications, a P.R. firm he founded whose clients, according to the company Web site, have included the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Reagan International Trade Center, and the U.A.E. government. “A client just came down from New York,” Arundel told me when we spoke on Thursday. “She worked for Mother Theresa, and we’re working on a domestic-violence documentary together.”
Following his arrest last week, Arundel is facing charges of domestic assault and battery, and strangulation. Arundel told me: “No one believes the accusation, including a United States senator who called me in support.” (He would not say who the senator was.)
“It’s a crazy unraveling of a life that I’ve had,” Arundel said. “Eighteen years of marriage and my wife never, never accused me of domestic violence. My ex-girlfriend is calling me constantly, she said, ‘John, you never laid a hand on me. What is going on? Where are they coming up with these lies?’” Arundel added, “She’s a Fox News producer.”
In his statement to the press, Arundel explained: “I arrived home at 1 a.m. to my rental home to find two severely drunk women and a Massachusetts State Trooper partying hard in my rental home which had been trashed.”
“Falsely accused men have rights too.”
Visitors to Nantucket, one of Washington’s favorite vacation spots, have long been known to see the island as an escape from reality, responsibility, and, sometimes, spouses. A part-time resident on Nantucket told me that the island is like “Las Vegas but with whales.” The daughter of a state trooper I spoke to referred to it as “NanVegas.”
“If you go into a restaurant at nine P.M. you can assume two-thirds of the people are blacked out,” a Nantucket local said. “Everyone on the island pretends they are 25. Fifteen-year-olds and 50-year-olds alike.”
In Arundel’s case, the state trooper he referred to in his press statement was Bates, and those “severely drunk women” were Villela and Khawam. They had left Cru ahead of the others, eventually making their way to the Eel Point house Arundel said the group was renting. (Villela and Khawam did not respond to multiple requests for comment from AIR MAIL. At the time this story went live, AIR MAIL’s attempts to reach out to Bates had not been successful.)
In his press statement, Arundel said that once they arrived at the house, he and Borrero “repeatedly asked the women to separate or leave the premises immediately, or [he] would call the police to have them forcibly removed.” (Borrero did not respond to multiple requests for comment from AIR MAIL.)
Natalie Khawam is a known quantity on the capital scene. She is the twin sister of Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who in 2012 was involved in the resignation of C.I.A. director David Petraeus. (Kelley went to the F.B.I. after receiving allegedly threatening e-mails, which led to the bureau’s uncovering of an affair between the married mother of two Paula Broadwell and the also married Petraeus, who resigned before news of the affair became public.)
Khawam hired the attorney Gloria Allred, who would later become the legal force behind the #MeToo movement, to “correct misconceptions” about her involvement in the Petraeus sex scandal, according to Allred’s statement in a press conference held at the time.
The main point of contention involved Khawam’s brutal custody fight with ex-husband Grayson Wolfe. Petraeus and U.S. Marine Corps general John R. Allen both wrote letters in support of Khawam, just two months before the Petraeus scandal came to light. (According to the New York Post, Khawam was close with Petraeus’s and Allen’s wives.) However, a judge determined that Khawam was “psychologically unstable” and criticized her for “a stunning willingness to say anything, even under oath, to advance her own interests,” and she ultimately lost the case. (Khawam did not respond to AIR MAIL’s request for comment regarding the case and its outcome.)
Khawam has since represented many women in sexual- or domestic-abuse cases, and recently served as the attorney for the family of Vanessa Guillén, a 20-year-old army soldier who was murdered while she was stationed at Fort Hood in 2020. The case led to significant military reform—on December 27, 2021, President Biden signed a $770 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which included provisions of the “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act.” The new law established that the decision to prosecute sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military would be made outside service members’ chain of command, and also established protections against retaliation.
On August 13, three days before the Nantucket incident, Khawam announced that the Guillén family was seeking $35 million in damages from the Department of the Army.
But back to the night in question.
Arundel did ultimately call the police. When the officers showed up, he and Borrero answered the door. “John [Arundel] asked for a female trespasser to be removed from the property,” wrote Officer Ryan Clark in his report. “John was sweating profusely and appeared to be out of breathe [sic] as he spoke.”
The police report continues: “Gilda stated that John was angry that she did not want to sleep with him.... John then became suspicious that [Gilda Villela] was going to sleep with Natalie [Khawam] and accused the two of having sex so he could watch.” A source close to Arundel clarifies that he said he was upset that the two women were trying to have sex with each other but not him, and that he indeed asked if he could watch. In her witness statement, Khawam wrote, “I absolutely had no intention of sleeping with [Villela] but I wanted to make sure she was safe.”
From there, the stories diverge further.
According to the police report, Villela told police that Arundel grabbed her by the throat, squeezing with both hands and making it difficult to breathe, and that Arundel had also pushed her down the stairs and dragged her up the stairs by her hair. According to the report, Villela was too upset to file her own report, “burst[ing] out into tears every time she looked at the paperwork.”
Villela was told by police that she could drop off her report the following day. (Neither Villela nor the police responded to AIR MAIL’s requests to confirm whether she’d dropped off the report.)
In her witness statement, Khawam wrote: “Charlie [Borrero] and I watched [Arundel] grab her by the neck in front of the house.”
In his press statement, meanwhile, Arundel said, “What these severely intoxicated women claim simply never occurred.”
When Borrero first spoke to police, with Arundel present, he stated that the altercation was strictly verbal. But when Officer Chase P. Colasurdo pulled Borrero to the side, his answer changed, according to the police report. “Charles then admitted that he too witnessed John place his hands on Gilda’s throat and strangle her,” the police report reads. (Borrero did not respond to a request for comment from AIR MAIL about the consistency of his account.)
The officers checked Villela for injuries, but Clark wrote in the police report that he “was unable to locate any redness or makes [sic] consistent with her story.” However, based on Villela’s verbal statement and the two witness accounts, “probable cause existed to arrest John for domestic assault and battery and strangulation,” according to the police report. Arundel was handcuffed, arrested, and taken to the Nantucket police station. He would spend the next six hours in a cell to complete his mandatory hold.
The following morning, Arundel returned to 4 Lavender Lane. Villela got a restraining order against Arundel before leaving the island.
On August 22, Arundel appeared in a Nantucket court for a hearing regarding Villela’s restraining order. Villela tuned in on Zoom and told the judge that she was worried Arundel would show up at her house in Virginia. The judge granted her a 60-day extension on her restraining order so she would have time to file for one in Virginia as well.
Villela also stated to the judge that Arundel was giving out her phone number. “If you contact her through other people, it’s in violation of the order,” the judge told Arundel, which could mean two and a half years of prison time. “You’re playing with fire. You keep it up, you’re going to get burned.”
“You know who my family is? We’re big philanthropists,” Arundel told me when we spoke after the hearing with Villela. “We’ve been in the news business for 60 years.... We are community journalists. We are people who deal in the truth. We don’t do coke, we don’t get drunk. We’re just truth-seekers.”
Arundel’s pre-trial hearing for the events that transpired on the night of August 16 is on Monday.
Clara Molot is an Associate Editor for AIR MAIL