When Claude Allen, President Bush's longtime domestic-policy adviser, resigned suddenly on Feb. 9, it baffled administration critics and fans. The White House claimed that Allen was leaving to spend more time with his family, while the Washington Times speculated that the 45-year-old aide, a noted social conservative, might have quit to protest a new Pentagon policy about military chaplains. Allen himself never publicly explained the reason for his departure.
News today may shed light on the mystery of Allen's resignation. According to the Montgomery County Police Department, Allen was arrested yesterday and charged in a felony theft and a felony theft scheme. According to a department press release, Allen conducted approximately 25 fraudulent "refunds" in Target and Hecht's stores in Maryland. On Jan. 2, a Target employee apprehended Allen after observing him receive a refund for merchandise he had not purchased. Target then contacted the Montgomery County Police. According to a source familiar with the case, Target and the police had been observing Allen since October 2005.
Allen is charged with practicing a form of shoplifting called "refund fraud."
In general, a refund-fraud scam goes like this: You purchase an item—a CD player, let's say—and leave the store with it. Then you come back to the store and pick up exactly the same CD player; you take the CD player and receipt from the original purchase to the returns desk, claiming that this is the item you bought, and get a refund for it. You keep the original CD player, and pay nothing. Professional shoplifters like refund fraud because it's relatively safe. Since you never actually steal an object from the store, no one can chase you out to the parking lot. According to Richard Hollinger, a professor at the University of Florida-Gainesville and the author of the only yearly survey on retail theft, figures vary but "some say that figures lost to refund fraud reach $16 billion a year."
According to the department, Allen sought refunds for more than $5,000 in the past year. Allen allegedly stole items as expensive as a Bose theater system and a photo printer. Theft of more than $500 is a felony in Maryland.
Allen was released on his own recognizance. A message left at his home was not returned by the time of publication.