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Slate's This Just In: Bush Aide's Shoplifting Scheme


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Chadwick.

You may have heard by now that a White House official, former White House official, was arrested last week for shoplifting. He's Claude Allen, President Bush's former domestic policy advisor. He resigned a month ago from his job to spend more time with his family, he says. The news of his arrest broke Friday in the online magazine Slate, in the article by Rachel Shteir. She's a writer currently working on a book about shoplifting.

Rachel Shteir, describe exactly what it was that Claude Allen was doing.

Ms. RACHEL SHTEIR (Reporter, Slate Magazine): Well, according to the police, what Claude Allen was doing is called a refund fraud, which is when you buy an item, and then you leave the store with that item, and then you return to the store with your receipt. And you pick up that same item, and you put it in your shopping cart. And then you pretend, essentially, that you have bought the second item.

CHADWICK: So, the item you actually bought is out in the trunk of your car. You've gone back into the store. You've picked up another one of these items and gone to the refund counter, and...

Ms. SHTEIR: It's, that's right.


Ms. SHTEIR: That's exactly right. And so, then you get the refund. And so then, you've gotten whatever the amount of the item is refunded to your credit card. So, you've gotten the amount of that item, you know, for free, as it were.

CHADWICK: How common is refund fraud?

Ms. SHTEIR: I would say it's pretty common. Retail stores are very concerned about it. I think one of the things is that, until recently, there's been a pretty lax policy about returns. I don't know if you've ever tried to return anything. But some stores, of course, you can actually get cash if you try and return something. And then other stores have a kind of, I guess I would say, flexible return policy. In other words, what is the amount of time before which you can no longer return something? It's not often clearly defined at many stores.

CHADWICK: So, this is refund fraud, and you say it's actually fairly common. I have to tell you that when I first read about this in the newspapers, I had never heard this before. And I actually thought that's pretty clever.

Ms. SHTEIR: A lot of people have that reaction. In fact, I emailed the piece that I wrote for Slate to many people, and many people emailed me back and said this is a great idea.

CHADWICK: Right. Why didn't I think of that?

Ms. SHTEIR: Right, exactly.

CHADWICK: Well, I don't mean that we should actually be encouraging something like refund fraud, but you're writing a book about shoplifting. How many shoplifting addicts do you think there are? Because this man, Claude Allen, was a very high-ranking government official. He bought a million dollar home fairly recently. He has all kinds of prospects for making a lot of money for the rest of his life, and you have to wonder why he would throw all that away for $5,000 worth of goods.

Ms. SHTEIR: Right. It probably does not have a lot to do with money. People who are compulsive shoplifters feel the need to take things, regardless of their value. If Mr. Allen did indeed do this, the things that he is listed as taking range from a mop up to a Bose stereo system.

CHADWICK: What are the penalties for this kind of things?

Ms. SHTEIR: You know, it's related to the amount of money stolen. And what Mr. Allen is being accused of having stolen is at least $5,000 worth. And so, that's a felony in Maryland. So, the penalty for that can be, I believe it's up to 15 years. It's very unlikely that he would ever get up to 15 years, but there are people who are doing two to four in New York State for shoplifting. People do, do time for it.

CHADWICK: Rachel Shteir broke the story of Claude Allen's arrest in the online magazine Slate, and she's at work on a book about shoplifting. She joined us from London.

Rachel, thank you.

Ms. SHTEIR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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