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Ex-White House aide arrested in alleged refund scam

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President Bush speaks with his former domestic policy adviser Claude Allen in March 2005.

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George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A former adviser to President Bush was arrested this week in Maryland and charged with swindling two department stores out of more than $5,000 in a refund scam.

Montgomery County police said Claude Allen, 45, was arrested Thursday and charged with carrying out a felony theft scheme at Target and Hecht's stores. He was released on his own recognizance.

Conviction on the charges can result in a 15-year prison sentence.

Authorities accuse Allen of going to stores on more than 25 occasions and buying items, taking them to his car and then returning to the store with his receipt where he would carry out the alleged scam.

"He would select the same items he had just purchased, and then return them for a refund. Allen is known to have conducted approximately 25 of these types of refunds, having the money credited to his credit cards," a statement from Montgomery County police said.

The items ranged from a Bose theater system to a photo printer to clothing to small items valued at $2.50, police said.

Allen resigned without explanation in early February as Bush's top domestic political adviser. Allen had long been a darling among the conservative right -- and Bush had even nominated him to be a federal appeals court judge in 2003, but Democrats blocked the move.

In announcing Allen's resignation, Bush called him a "trusted adviser" who helped "develop policies that will strengthen our nation's families, schools and communities."

"Claude is a good and compassionate man, and he has my deep respect and my gratitude. I thank him for his many years of principled and dedicated service to our country," Bush said in a statement issued on February 9.

According to police, on January 2, a Target manager at a store in Gaithersburg observed Allen in the store with an empty Target bag in a shopping cart.

"The man was then seen selecting merchandise throughout the store and placing items in the Target bag. He put additional items in his cart. The man then went to guest services where he produced a receipt and received a refund for the items he had just selected from the store shelves. After receiving the refund, he left the store without paying for the additional merchandise in the shopping cart," the police statement said.

He was apprehended by the store employee, and police were contacted.

"Through the police investigation it was learned that Allen had been receiving refunds in an amount exceeding $5,000 during last year," the statement said.

Allen made $161,000 in his role as Bush's top domestic policy adviser, according to government records.

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