Law

Former Bush Aide Claims Hurricane Katrina Made Him Steal

A former top domestic policy adviser to President George W. Bush had his license suspended for 90 days by a Washington, D.C. ethics panel that decided against harsher punishment against the man who plead guilty to a series of thefts at Target, in part, because he “internalized” the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Claude Allen, who resigned from his White House position in February 2006, admitted that he stole a $525 Bose stereo, a $237 Kodak printer, and an $88 RCA stereo from a Gaithersburg, Md., Target store on three separate occasions in 2005, which was caught on tape by Target’s surveillance system.

He plead guilty in August 2006 to one count of theft under $500, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to two years supervised probation, 40 hours of community service and a $625 fine.

Last week, a committee of the Washington, D.C. Board of Professional Responsibility issued a report that recommended a “modest sanction” against Allen for the episode. Allen has been a member of the D.C. Bar since 1992.

According to the 20-page report, Allen carried out his “scheme”, by purchasing “items from a Target store on his credit card; he would leave the store with the item; he would then return to the store (or another Target location) with the receipt for the item he purchased but without the actual purchased item; he would retrieve an identical item from the Target shelf; he would take that item to the Customer Service counter; and, using the receipt, he would return that item for a refund to his credit card while retaining the item he initially purchased without any charge to him personally.”

The panel’s 20-page report said Allen, who had a “grueling” 5 a.m, to 10 p.m. work schedule in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “identified closely with those who were suffering [in Katrina] and [he] internalized that” and it caused him to act out by committing a series of thefts.

“Some memories of the Katrina disaster affected Respondent greatly; for example, he remembered “a gentlemen sitting out in front of the Superdome in a chair for days with a sign on him saying, ‘I’ve passed away. Please bury me.,” the Nov. 19 report said. “That didn’t happen, and [he] felt very responsible for much of that, the lack of ability to address that.”  

Allen’s testimony during the panel’s probe “contained inconsistencies which undermined the credibility of his testimony,” the report concluded.

“As an explanation for his criminal conduct, [Allen] testified that he would shop regularly after leaving work at night and before arriving at home as a means of building a buffer between work and home to relieve stress,” the report said. “However, the incidents in question occurred during the day or afternoon, which is inconsistent with the testimony that he would go to the stores at night time as a stress reliever and buffer leading to these events.  

Dr. Thomas Goldman, a forensic psychiatrist, who testified on Allen’s behalf, told the panel that Allen suffered kleptomania, a condition that is clinically defined as instances where “the individual may hoard the stolen objects or surreptitiously return them.”  

“Dr. Goldman testified that if [Allen] had returned the stolen property to the stores shortly after he realized what he had done, “[t]hat would be different from what [Dr. Goldman] understood he did,” the report said. “When questioned later by the Hearing Committee about whether [Allen] returned the stolen items to the store’s shelves, Dr. Goldman testified that he believes he indeed did hear that occurred. (Dr. Goldman’s expert report, however, does not reflect any statements from [Allen] that he returned the stolen items.

“Thus, Dr. Goldman firsts suggests he did not know [Allen] returned the items, then states Respondent told him that [Allen] indeed returned the items, but Dr. Goldman fails to mention that fact in his report although it is a key element of Respondent’s alleged condition.”

During his testimony, Goldman changed his diagnosis and said Allen suffered from adjustment disorder. Goldman’s inconsistent testimony further undermined Allen’s credibility, the committee said.

Ultimately, the panel decided to go easy on him because his law license had already been suspended for 90 days in Pennsylvania and Virginia and he was a dedicated public servant.

Allen “was under significant pressure in responding to a national disaster which involved the loss of hundreds of lives,” the report said. Allen’s “role in the White House’s Hurricane Katrina response, coupled with his unsettled private life – moving his residence over and over again while trying to keep his word to his family, undoubtedly caused stress that may have manifested itself in one of the conditions identified by Dr. Goldman.

“This Hearing Committee…cannot confidently conclude that [Allen] acted out of personal gain as opposed to self-defeating behavior consistent with a psychological problem or by a neurotic desire to be caught.

Allen, who before becoming an adviser to Bush was a deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a protégé of deceased Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, having served as his chief spokesman.

In 2003, Bush nominated Allen to serve on the 4th Circuit U.S, Court of Appeals. During his confirmation hearing, Allen, who is African American, was excoriated by Democratic senators for stating that Helms’ opponent in his 1984 reelection bid, North Carolina Gov. James Hunt, had ties to “radical feminists” and “the queers.”

Under questioning by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, in 2003, Allen explained that the textbook definition of “queer” is “odd or unusual” and that is the context in which he used it against Hunt.

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