Ex-Bush aide charged with theft from Cuba group

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former aide to President Bush has been charged with theft from a government-funded center that promotes democracy in Cuba.

The single count of theft of $5,000 or more from a federally aided program was filed in U.S. District Court here last Thursday against Felipe E. Sixto, who resigned on March 28 from his job as special assistant to President George W. Bush for intergovernmental affairs.

The charge was filed as a criminal information, which means Sixto waived his right to have a grand jury decide if the government has enough evidence to charge him and usually also means the defendant intends to plead guilty as part of an agreement with prosecutors.

No date has been set for Sixto to appear before U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton.

Sixto's attorney, Kathleen E. Voelker, did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the case.

When Sixto resigned from the White House staff last spring, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Sixto had stepped forward March 20 to reveal his alleged wrongdoing and resign. Stanzel said Sixto took that step after learning that his former employer, the Center for a Free Cuba, was prepared to begin legal action against him.

The nonprofit center has received grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Stanzel said, "Mr. Sixto allegedly had a conflict of interest with the use of USAID funds." Stanzel added that he did not know how much money was involved or the particulars of the allegations.

The government alleged Thursday that the theft occurred between March 31, 2005, and Jan. 14, 2008.

Sixto had been chief of staff at the center, where he worked for more than three years before moving to the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in July 2007.

The Center for a Free Cuba describes itself as an independent, nonpartisan institution dedicated to promoting human rights and a transition to democracy and the rule of law in Cuba. Frank Calzon, the center's executive director, said it receives "a couple million dollars" a year from USAID for rent, travel and equipment such as shortwave radios and laptops.

Calzon said the center "received an allegation" in mid-January about the possible misuse of funds and within days formed a fact-finding team. He said USAID was alerted within a few days. "After several weeks of investigating, we discovered there was some substance to it," Calzon said. "A letter went from our lawyer to the inspector general of USAID."

At the White House intergovernmental office, Sixto, 29, was assigned to deal with state legislators, Native American groups and Hispanic officials on issues such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, health, labor, transportation, the environment and energy, Stanzel said. He was promoted to special assistant to Bush on March 1, just weeks before he resigned on March 28.

The theft charge was first reported by The Examiner newspaper in Washington.

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