The Germans have a word for it, schadenfreude—taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others—and that is what many in the gay community surely are feeling over the news that a major architect of antigay policies has been arrested on charges of theft from local stores.
Claude Allen, 45, served as press secretary to Sen. Jesse Helms; was the number two person at the Department of Health and Human Services ( HHS ) for the first four years of the Bush administration; and until recently was the chief domestic policy advisor in the White House.
According to a statement released on March 10 by the Department of Police for Montgomery County, Maryland, the affluent suburb of Washington in which Allen lives: 'On January 2, 2006, a Target store Loss Prevention Manger observed an unknown man [ later identified as Allen ] enter 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. He was apprehended by the store employee.'
Investigation by Target and the police 'learned that Allen had been receiving refunds in an amount exceeding $5,000 during last year. Some of the fraudulent returns were made at Target stores and some at Hecht's stores,' a leading local department store.
'He would buy items, take them out to his car, and return to the store with the receipt. 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.'
'Throughout 2005 he obtained refunds for items ranging from clothing, a Bose theater system, stereo equipment, and photo printer to items valued only at $2.50.'
Allen considers himself 'born-again' and is one of the more prominent African Americans closely allied with the social conservative movement. He first gained broad public notice in the 1980s as one of the first Black staffers for Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC. As press secretary during the 1984 reelection Allen said that Helms' opponent had ties to 'queers' and 'radical feminists.'
When asked about those remarks during a 2004 Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination by President Bush to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Allen said he did not believe the words were derogatory, nor had he intend to use them in a derogatory manner. The nomination was one of several that was blocked by liberals, and Allen eventually asked that his name be withdrawn.
Allen served as Virginia's secretary of health in the 1990s. He became deputy secretary of HHS in 2001 when the Bush administration took office. In that number two slot, essentially the chief operating officer of that huge agency, he was a strong supporter of abstinence-only HIV prevention programs and restrictions on abortions. He championed 'audits' of AIDS services organizations and activities that many within the community characterized as harassing in nature. After four years, in January 2005, he moved to the White House as the top domestic policy advisor to the President.
According to White House press secretary Scott McClellan, Allen immediately reported the Target incident to senior staff. He explained it was the result of confusion with his credit cards because of frequent changes of address, and the matter would be resolved.
Allen subsequently was among the 21 guests of first lady Laura Bush in the presidential box at the State of the Union Address on Jan. 31. But on Feb. 9 he surprised many by giving notice of his resignation; the reason given was to spend more time with family.
'When I first heart the story last night, I was shocked, and my first reaction was one of disappointment, deep disappointment,' Bush told the press upon learning of Allen's. 'If the allegations are true, something went wrong in Claude Allen's life, and that is really sad.'
Allen's attorney maintains that his client is innocent.
Each of the two charges against Allen carries a term of up to 15 years in prison. Someone with no prior criminal record is likely to strike a plea bargain that consists of probation. However, that likely will affect Allen's license to practice law, as well as his potential value as a lobbyist.
One curious aspect of the story is why Allen has moved so frequently. His most recent home was purchased last fall for just under a million dollars, which would be s stretch on his government salary of $161,000, even with significant equity built up in previous property. His wife home schools their four children, which does not leave much opportunity to generate additional family income.
The sentencing of ex-congressman Randy 'Duke' Cunningham on corruption charges, laundered by paying higher than market value for a home that he owned, is likely to draw scrutiny of Allen's real estate transactions.