Ex-aide to Bush is guilty of theft

August 05, 2006|By MCCLATCHY TRIBUNE

Rockville -- Former White House domestic policy adviser Claude A. Allen tearfully pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge yesterday, telling a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge that he lost his bearings while working 14-hour days and getting too little sleep in the "tumultuous time" after Hurricane Katrina.

"Something did go very wrong," said Allen, who began crying during his three minutes of remarks to the court. "I lost perspective and failed to restrain myself. ... I did not realize or fully appreciate what was going on."

Still, Allen, who was nominated as a federal judge by President Bush, insisted he was not trying to offer excuses or shirk responsibility for what police have described as a phony refund scheme involving the theft of more than $5,000 in merchandise from Target and Hecht's.

"I fully admit my transgressions and take responsibility," said Allen, 45. "I am intensely and immensely sorry ... [and] deeply ashamed."

When he was arrested in March, Allen was charged with felony theft. Yesterday, as part of a deal agreed to by the prosecution, he pleaded guilty to a single count of misdemeanor theft for stealing items worth less than $500.

Allen will serve no jail time. He was put on supervised probation for two years, with permission to travel outside Maryland.

He was also assigned 40 hours of community service, which Circuit Judge Eric Johnson said should be spent helping young people - "coaching soccer, reading [them] Shakespeare" or any other activity, the judge said. Allen also has to pay $850 in restitution to Target and a $500 fine.

Over the prosecution's opposition, the judge also agreed to Allen's request for probation before judgment. That means Allen will not have a criminal conviction on his record if he stays out of trouble during his probation period and will likely find it easier to persuade bar associations to let him continue practicing law.

Johnson stressed that Allen's White House job was not a consideration in deciding his sentence, that he was getting the same deal that others get who have "no prior criminal transgressions."

In 2003, Allen, living in Virginia at the time, was nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Allen's nomination was blocked by Maryland's two Democratic senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, who oversaw the prosecution and is a Democrat running for state attorney general, said Allen's sentence was "fair and reasonable." But he said his office opposed the defense attorneys' plea for a deal that could eventually keep Allen's record clean because the thefts were not an isolated incident, but "a long-term shoplifting scheme."

The judge said in court that he was convinced that Allen was "legitimately remorseful" and won't likely be charged in other crimes.

A rising star in conservative political circles and one of the GOP's few African-American stars, Allen was hired in 2005 to be President Bush's top domestic policy adviser. He left the $161,000-a-year job in February, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. A month later, he was arrested.

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