By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Former White House adviser Claude A. Allen admitted "that he was committing fraudulent returns" on Jan 2. when a store manager confronted him as he was leaving a Gaithersburg Target with merchandise he allegedly didn't pay for, a police charging document says.
Police issued Allen, 45, a citation at 7:30 p.m. that day, accusing him of stealing "clothing and cleaning products" worth $74.72 from the store, at 25 Grand Corner Ave. Like traffic tickets, such citations often do not lead to arrests and seldom lead to jail time when they go to trial.
But Allen's Jan. 2 brush with police triggered an investigation that resulted in two felony theft charges last week.
Allen, who resigned last month as President Bush's top domestic policy adviser, appeared Thursday in District Court in Rockville with his attorney, Mallon Snyder, to fight the Jan. 2 misdemeanor charge. Prosecutors dropped the charge, but shortly after leaving the courtroom, Allen was arrested and charged with theft scheme and theft over $500, each punishable by as much as 15 years in prison.
Snyder said last week that Allen did not steal from the stores, and he characterized the transactions in question as "misunderstandings." Yesterday, he declined to elaborate on the nature of the misunderstanding or on Allen's alleged acknowledgment of involvement Jan. 2.
Police said they have been able to document 25 instances in which Allen tried to obtain refunds for items he was seen picking up from shelves at Target and Hecht's stores in Montgomery by using receipts for identical items he had bought earlier.
The Jan. 2 citation was issued after Pete Schomburg, a Target loss prevention manager, observed Allen strolling through the store pushing a shopping cart with a Target bag. He was observed placing items inside the bag and elsewhere in the cart, according to the police document.
Allen obtained a refund by presenting receipts for items he purchased previously and then walked out of the store with additional merchandise he hadn't paid for, according to police.
Schomburg stopped him, noticed that he had receipts for previous purchases at Target stores and called police to the store, according to the document.
Detective David Hill, with the county's retail crime unit, was assigned to the case after that incident. Using credit card statements and store surveillance video, Hill says in the charging document, he was able to tally $5,000 in potentially fraudulent refunds involving purchases with Allen's American Express card, the charging document says.
Hill wrote that he was able to recover surveillance videos that document six instances in which Allen obtained fraudulent returns. The six incidents occurred from Oct 29 to Jan. 2 and cost Target more than $1,000, according to Hill.
The costliest item listed in the police document was a $525 Bose theater system purchased Oct. 29 at the store where he received the citation Jan 2. Allen's actions Oct. 29 "are captured on video," according to Hill.
Also according to police:
· On the morning of Dec. 24, Allen was filmed selecting a $237 Kodak printer that he paid for with his Visa card. Hours later he obtained a refund at a Target store in Germantown for an identical printer.
· On Dec. 30, Allen bought a $60 jacket, a $25 pair of pants, two shades worth $15 each and two unspecified items worth $2.50 each. Hours later, he received a $125.94 refund for identical items.
· On Jan. 1, he purchased an $88 RCA stereo at a Target store in Gaithersburg. About an hour later, he was videotaped selecting an identical stereo at a Rockville Target store, and he obtained a refund using a receipt that corresponded to the one from Gaithersburg.
Allen, whom neighbors and friends have described as an honorable and honest man, received support over the weekend from the congregation at his church, Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg.
Senior Pastor Joshua Harris told parishioners Sunday that pastors have remained in close touch with Allen since the news of his arrest broke Friday.
"Our role is not to provide legal counsel," Harris said during both Sunday services, according to a posting on the church's Web site. "Our concern is for his soul. Our desire -- and Claude shares this -- if for him to walk with humility and integrity."
Staff writer Michael A. Fletcher and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.