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Former EPA official sentenced for years-long spy scam

An air pollution expert at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defrauded the government for nearly $900,000. Recent internal reports discuss weak management controls at the agency that allowed him to perpetuate the crime.
Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published on December 18, 2013 10:49AM

Last changed on December 18, 2013 1:05PM

Courtesy of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
John Beale, a former official at the Environmental Protection Agency, appears at a hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Oct. 2.

Courtesy of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform John Beale, a former official at the Environmental Protection Agency, appears at a hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Oct. 2.

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Weak employee oversight allowed a former government official to bilk the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency out of nearly $900,000, according to internal reports.

The findings pertain to wage and travel expense fraud committed by John Beale, a senior policy analyst at EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation who recently pleaded guilty to felony theft of government property.

On Dec. 18, Beale was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.

Between 2000 and 2013, Beale would regularly miss work at the EPA because he falsely claimed to be working for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to the “statement of offense” filed in the criminal case.

“Beale simply did not show up to work at the EPA-OAR on days he claimed he was working at the CIA, yet still received his EPA salary as if he had performed his EPA-assigned duties for each of those days,” the document said.

During a six-month period in 2008, Beale failed to show up at EPA at all, claiming he was spending time at CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va., or working on a “research project” that was never completed, the document said.

In September 2011, Beale announced his retirement from the agency and even held a dinner cruise celebration on the Potomac River, but nonetheless continued collecting paychecks until April 2013, the document said.

These tactics allowed Beale to get paid for about 2.5 years of work at the EPA that he didn’t actually do, the document said.

He also spent tens of thousands of dollars taking unnecessary trips to California, received bonuses he wasn’t eligible for, and lied about contracting malaria while fighting in the Vietnam War to obtain expensive parking privileges, the document said.

The activities collectively cost the federal government more than $886,000, the document said.

According to an analysis conducted by EPA’s Office of Inspector General, Beale was able to defraud the agency because its managers considered his pay issues an “administrative matter” rather than potentially criminal.

The EPA lacked automated controls that could have prevented Beale from collecting the unauthorized bonuses, and controls were bypassed to allow him to avoid pay limits, the report said.

Managers also “mass approved” attendance records without any supervisory review, contributing to Beale’s ability to miss work, the report said.

His story of working as a CIA agent also aided the fraud, as managers “did not want to compromise national security or jeopardize Beale’s cover,” the report said.

In another report, the Office of Inspector General examined Beale’s travel expenses and found that managers conducted “limited review” of vouchers and receipts.

Questions about the travel expenses were dismissed because it was assumed they were approved by Beale’s supervisor, the report said.

Alisha Johnson, a spokesperson for EPA, said the agency commends the federal prosecutors and the Office of Inspector General for securing the conviction.

The EPA has been working with the OIG and the U.S. Attorneys’ Office to “establish additional safeguards to help protect against further fraud and abuse related to employee time and attendance,” as well as tighter controls on travel and bonuses, she said in an email.

As part of his plea agreement, Beale must pay more than $886,000 in restitution. He also agreed to forfeit $500,000 in cash.

Beale and the government had agreed on an “offense level” that would result in a prison term of 30 months to 37 months under federal sentencing guidelines.

According to a court document submitted by Beale’s attorneys, he was highly involved in crafting amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 and then implementing those changes.

Beale shaped policy regarding polluted air that travels across political boundaries, air quality standards and low-emission vehicles, the document said. He also participated international climate change discussions.

Apart from greed, he committed the offenses beginning in 2000 due to “a highly self-destructive and dysfunctional need to engage in excessively reckless, risky behavior and to manipulate those around him through the fabrication of grandiose narratives about himself that are fueled by his insecurities,” the document said.


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