Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- A longtime senior official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted to accepting almost $900,000 in pay and benefits for work he didn’t do by pretending he was away on missions for the CIA.
John Beale, 64, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Washington to stealing government property. He collected paychecks from about 2000 through this year despite absences from work that he explained by falsely claiming he was on assignment for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to a statement of his offense reviewed in court.
Beale engaged in this “scheme of deception for over 10 years,” U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola said today. “You claimed you were working for the CIA even though you never did.” Beale didn’t comment except to answer Facciola’s questions aimed at making sure he understood his plea.
From 2000 to 2013, Beale was absent from his EPA job for a total of about two and a half years, during which he drew salary and benefits, according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr.
Under a plea agreement with the Justice Department, Beale could be sentenced to as long as 37 months in prison. He also agreed to forfeit $507,000 and pay fines of as much as $60,000, according to the agreement, which is subject to court approval.
Beale, who now lives in New York, already has fulfilled another portion of his plea agreement, paying restitution to the EPA of $886,186, which represents the value of his stolen pay and benefits, according to William Miller, Machen’s spokesman.
The maximum penalty for theft of government property is 10 years in prison, according to Facciola. A hearing in the case is set for Oct. 9. A sentencing date hasn’t been set.
Court papers describe a series of long-running scams, seemingly unchallenged by EPA administrators.
From 2000 until mid-2008, Beale took off about 102 days for phony CIA assignments. Starting in June 2008, he failed to report to the EPA offices for about six months, either claiming to be working on a bogus research project or working for “Langley,” according to a court filing. Langley is the neighborhood in McLean, Virginia, where the CIA has its headquarters.
Beale collected more than $57,000 in travel expenses for five unneeded research trips to the Los Angeles area, where he visited family, prosecutors said in the filing.
He also got a parking space at the EPA by claiming he contracted malaria while serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He neither had the disease nor served in Vietnam, according to prosecutors.
In the spring of 2011, Beale announced he was retiring from the EPA and in September of that year, he and two other long-time agency employees held a retirement party on a dinner cruise on the Potomac River, prosecutors said in the court filing.
After the party, an EPA manager believed that Beale had actually retired and didn’t see him in agency offices again, only to discover in November 2012 that he was still collecting a paycheck, according to the filing.
EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. criticized the agency for “an absence of even basic internal controls” and said he hoped “exposing the lax agency practices that enabled Mr. Beale to construct and prosper from a web of lies also will lead to swift reforms so such abuses can never recur,” according to the statement released by Machen.
Beale worked at the EPA from 1989 until April 30, 2013, and was assigned to the Office of Air and Radiation. For much of his time at the agency he was a senior policy adviser. He came under investigation by Elkins in February, based on information supplied by the agency, according to Jennifer Kaplan, a spokeswoman for the inspector general.
The investigation remains open and there are other EPA employees involved who may be subject to administrative penalties, Kaplan said. Elkins is also supervising an audit of EPA personnel records to see if there are other cases like Beale’s, Kaplan said.
Elkins is slated to appear Sept. 30 at a briefing on EPA personnel practices hosted by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, Kaplan said. Boxer, a California Democrat, is the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
The ranking member of the committee, Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, who has been a critic of the EPA on unrelated issues, said in a statement that the Beale case highlights weak leadership at the agency, which is led by Gina McCarthy.
“At a minimum, $900,000 of the taxpayers’ money was stolen right under Gina McCarthy’s nose, so I want to know how vulnerable is this agency?” Vitter said.
Beale was a deputy assistant administrator for the agency and worked for McCarthy before she became administrator, according to Alisha Johnson, a spokeswoman for the EPA.
Elkins also is due to testify at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Oct. 1 titled “Secret Agent Man? Oversight of the EPA’s Investigation of John Beale”.
Beale is expected to testify, according to Becca Watkins, a spokeswoman for the House panel.
Beale’s attorney, John Kern, said his client will visit Congress next week, though he didn’t say he would testify.
“We’ll have to make that decision Monday,” Kern said before today’s plea hearing.
The case is U.S. v. Beale, 13-cr-247, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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