COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A former domestic policy adviser to President Bush has been charged with theft for allegedly receiving phony refunds at department stores.
Claude Alexander Allen, 45, was arrested Thursday by Montgomery County police for allegedly claiming refunds for more than $5,000 worth of merchandise he did not buy, according to county and federal authorities.
Allen was the No. 2 official in the Health and Human Services Department when Bush nominated him in April 2003 to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. Bush nominated Allen to the court again a year later, but he never received a Senate vote.
During his confirmation hearing, Allen was questioned about his use of the word "queer" when he was a press aide to Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., in 1984. Allen said he didn't intend it as a slur against gay people.
In early 2005, Bush hired Allen as a domestic policy adviser. He resigned abruptly on Feb. 9, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Allen has been under investigation since at least January for the alleged thefts on 25 occasions at Target and Hecht's stores, said police spokesman Lt. Eric Burnett. Police reviewed his credit card records to track his purchase.
Police believe Allen would buy items, take them to his car, then return to the store with his receipt. He would select the same items, then take them to the store return desk and show the receipt from the first purchase. Using that method, he would receive credit for the second items on his credit cards, Burnett said.
Allen was allegedly seen Jan. 2 at a Target in Gaithersburg, Md., taking items off the shelf that he then took the return desk. He had a receipt for the merchandise, was given a refund and left.
The items he allegedly received fraudulent refunds for included clothing, a Bose theater system and stereo equipment. Some purchases were for as little as $2.50.
After the news of Allen's arrest surfaced Friday, the White House provided an account of their knowledge of the events that led up to it.
The night of Jan. 2, after the alleged incident at the Target in Gaithersburg, he called White House chief of staff Andy Card to inform him of what had happened. The next morning, he spoke again, this time in person, with Card and White House counsel Harriet Miers, assuring them it was all a misunderstanding, press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Allen told his bosses there was merely confusion with his credit card because he had moved several times. "He assured them that he had done nothing wrong and the matter would be cleared up," McClellan said.
Allen told White House officials later that he wanted to resign because the job was too stressful on his family. His last day at the White House was Feb. 17, McClellan said.
The president first learned of Allen's planned departure and the January incident in early February, but since Allen had passed the usual background checks and had no other prior issues that White House officials were aware of, "He was given the benefit of the doubt," McClellan said.
"If it is true, no one would be more shocked and more outraged than the president," McClellan said. Allen has had no contact with the White House since his arrest.
Allen's arrest was the talk of the White House late Friday, with many of his former colleagues expressing surprise and sadness.
Calls to Allen's home in Gaithersburg, a Washington suburb, were not returned.
Allen was released on his own recognizance by a Montgomery District Court judge.
Before joining the Bush administration, Allen was Virginia Health and Human Resources secretary.