- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2006

Former White House adviser Claude Allen pleaded guilty yesterday to one misdemeanor count of theft under $500, but never explained what led him to make phony returns at discount department stores.

“Something did go very wrong,” Mr. Allen, 45, said in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Mr. Allen’s attorneys asked for probation before judgment, a lesser penalty than a conviction, so their client would have an easier time persuading bar associations to allow him to continue practicing law.

Judge Eric Johnson gave Mr. Allen two years of supervised probation and ordered him to pay a $500 fine. Mr. Allen must also pay $850 in restitution to Target Corp. and perform 40 hours of community service.

Mr. Allen could have been sentenced to 18 months in prison on the theft charge. However, the probation-before-judgment ruling means his record will be expunged after his probation is over.

Mr. Allen, who briefly became teary, did not directly say before sentencing why he made thousands of dollars worth of fraudulent returns to Target and other stores last year.

However, Mr. Allen and his wife, Jannese, described the stresses he faced last fall when working long days after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, sleeping just two hours each night. The couple and their four children moved four times in three months, at one point living out of boxes in a friend’s basement.

“I lost perspective and failed to restrain myself,” said Mr. Allen, who made $160,000 a year as a domestic policy adviser. “At the time, I did not realize or fully appreciate what was going on. These factors do not excuse my behavior, my wrongdoing … but they were certainly a part of what happened.”

Mr. Allen apologized to his wife and friends, many of whom filled one side of the courtroom behind him. He also described how he developed “unswerving moral convictions” at a young age and that “stealing was not something I thought I would ever do.”

Mr. Allen was President Bush’s domestic policy adviser until he abruptly resigned in February, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. The resignation came after he was arrested in January leaving a Gaithersburg Target store with merchandise for which he did not pay, authorities said.

He told the White House about the arrest, but said it was the result of a mix-up with his credit cards. President Bush later said it would be “deeply disappointing” if Mr. Allen had misled White House officials.

According to police, Mr. Allen bought items with his credit card and took them out of the store. He then returned, took identical items from the shelves, and returned them using his original receipt.

He admitted to stealing a Kodak printer from a Target store on Dec. 24, according to a plea memorandum filed Wednesday. But charging documents filed when he was charged with felony theft and a theft scheme over $500 in March indicate he made false returns numerous times on at least $5,000 worth of merchandise.

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