By Ernesto Londoño and Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Claude A. Allen, who resigned last month as President Bush's top domestic policy adviser, was arrested this week in Montgomery County for allegedly swindling Target and Hecht's stores out of more than $5,000 in a refund scheme, police said.
Allen, 45, of Gaithersburg, has been released on his own recognizance and is awaiting trial on two charges, felony theft scheme and theft over $500, said Lt. Eric Burnett, a police spokesman. Each charge is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Allen could not be reached for comment last night.
His attorney, Mallon Snyder, said last night that his client denies wrongdoing. The lawyer disputed the police account of Allen's actions. "It's his reputation. Obviously, he's very concerned about it," Snyder said.
Snyder said he feels confident that Allen will be able to prove that the incidents were "a series of misunderstandings."
Allen, a former deputy secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services, was nominated in 2003 to a federal appeals court seat. He was appointed the president's top domestic policy adviser last year at the start of Bush's second term. That made him the highest-ranking African American on the White House staff.
Working out of a small office on the second floor of the West Wing, Allen shaped administration policy on such issues as health care, space exploration, housing and education.
He came to the attention of Montgomery police after a manager at a Gaithersburg Target store called the department about an incident Jan. 2. Montgomery detectives were able to document other alleged crimes from Oct. 29 to Jan. 2, some of which were captured on camera, Burnett said.
Allen resigned from the White House on Feb. 9, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family
In a statement that day, Bush said: "Claude is a good and compassionate man, and he has my deep respect and gratitude. I thank him for his many years of principled and dedicated service to our country."
Burnett said Montgomery police contacted the White House to verify Allen's identity after the Jan. 2 incident. He said that was the extent of their communication with the administration. He said he could not immediately determine the date of that contact, or whether police informed the White House that Allen had been charged Jan. 2 and was still under investigation.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said last night that if the allegation is true, "no one would be more disappointed, shocked and outraged" than the president. McClellan said Allen had told White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and White House counsel Harriet Miers that the matter was a misunderstanding.
This is what police said happened Jan. 2:
Employees at the Target store at 25 Grand Corner Ave. in Gaithersburg spotted Allen putting merchandise in a shopping bag. He then walked over to the guest services desk, produced a receipt and received a refund for the items.
After getting the refund, Allen left the store without paying for additional merchandise in his shopping cart.
A store employee stopped him, and police were called to the store. Officers issued a citation charging him with theft under $500 but did not arrest him. Court records show prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor charge, which is not unusual in cases in which detectives are considering filing more serious charges.
Detectives from the county's retail crime unit soon learned that the incident was not an isolated event, Burnett said.
He said investigators were able to document 25 fraudulent refunds for items including a Bose home theater system, stereo equipment, clothes, a photo printer and items worth as little as $2.50.
Allen would purchase an item, take it to his car, return to the store, select the same item, take it to the counter and get a refund based on the receipt for the merchandise in his car, Burnett said. "He would get the money back or the credit" on his credit cards.
Allen's arrest was first reported yesterday afternoon by the online magazine Slate.
At the time of his resignation, Allen denied reports that he was leaving to protest military guidelines that required chaplains to perform only nondenominational services.
As Bush's top domestic policy aide, he frequently briefed the president and traveled with him on Air Force One, and he sat in first lady Laura Bush's box during the president's State of the Union address Jan. 31. Two days, later he traveled with the president to Minnesota, briefing reporters about Bush's education and alternative energy proposals.
At the Department of Health and Human Services, where he became a strong advocate for abstinence-only AIDS prevention programs, Allen focused on homeless issues and racial health disparities.
Democrats in Congress blocked his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in 2003, citing his relative lack of legal experience. The court, based in Richmond, covers Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Allen, a native of Philadelphia, spent much of his childhood in a working-class section of Northwest Washington, attending Archbishop Carroll High School. He later attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke Law School.
Allen is a self-described born-again Christian who got his start in politics working for Jesse Helms (R), the conservative former North Carolina senator.
Allen stirred controversy as Helms's campaign spokesman in 1984 by telling a reporter that then-Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. -- Helms's opponent -- was politically vulnerable because of his links to the "queers." He later explained that he used the word not to denigrate anyone but as a synonym for "odd and unusual."
Before that, Allen worked for the Virginia state attorney general's office and as state health and human resources secretary. In that job, he earned a reputation as a staunch conservative; once he kept Medicaid funds from an impoverished rape victim who wanted an abortion.
Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.