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Former White House policy adviser will plead guilty to theft

WASHINGTON—Claude A. Allen, President Bush's former domestic-policy adviser and a protege of former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., is scheduled to plead guilty in court Friday to a single count of misdemeanor theft.

Allen, 45, will plead guilty to fraudulently stealing items worth less than $500 from a Target store in suburban Montgomery County, Md., near his Gaithersburg home, according to documents filed Wednesday in the county's Circuit Court.

The guilty plea caps months of speculation from friends and observers about why a man with so much political power had been charged with such a crime as theft from department stores. The plea also may open the door for Allen to re-enter politics, friends said.

The prosecutor and defense attorneys have asked that Allen receive no jail time, but rather pay $850 in restitution to Target Corp. and serve one month's probation.

He could have faced much more. Misdemeanor theft in Montgomery County carries a potential sentence of up to 18 months in jail.

Charging documents filed by police said Allen had received about 25 fraudulent refunds in six incidents late last year and early this year.

Friends of Allen, a well-known conservative who rose from a senator's press aide to one of the top jobs in the White House, said Wednesday that the criminal conviction shouldn't keep him from a future in politics.

"You know, people are more forgiving than you generally expect," said Carter Wrenn of Raleigh, N.C., a friend who was a political strategist for Helms and has known Allen since the early 1980s, when the recent college graduate was a spokesman for Helms' re-election campaign.

In 2001, Allen became second-in-command at the Department of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration.

Bush nominated Allen in 2003 to a federal appeals-court seat. He didn't win the judgeship, though, because of controversy over a remark he'd made in the 1980s, in which he referred to supporters of Helms' opponent, then-Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt, as "queers."

Allen was appointed Bush's domestic policy adviser in 2005. He resigned abruptly last February, citing the need to spend more time with family. Then on March 7, he was arrested and charged with two counts, theft under $500 and theft over $500.

Montgomery County police said that Allen had established a pattern of theft over several months by fraudulently returning items to stores.

Store videos showed that he'd purchase items from Target or Hecht's, take the purchases to his car, return to the store, select new items and try to return them with his receipt, police said.

Police said Allen may have received fraudulent refunds totaling more than $5,000 for items that included a Kodak printer, Bose theater equipment, a jacket and a pair of men's pants.

At the time of Allen's arrest, Bush said his first reaction "was one of disappointment, deep disappointment."

"If the allegations are true, something went wrong in Claude Allen's life, and that is really sad," the president said in March.

No statement was forthcoming from the White House on Wednesday, and neither of Allen's attorneys returned calls asking for comment. The Montgomery County district attorney's office also had no comment.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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