Federal district Judge Ellen S. Huvelle has sentenced lots of felons who abused the government’s trust, including a former congressman and super lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
But on Wednesday she found herself with possibly the most confounding case: EPA climate-change expert John C. Beale, who stole more than $800,000 pretending to work for the CIA and was sentenced to 21/2 years in prison.
What nagged at the judge was not just the amount of money stolen through the bizarre ruse. She wanted to know just what Beale did during all those months he got paid for doing nothing.
Beale didn’t go on long vacations. He didn’t have a taste for expensive cars and mistresses as did Kerry Khan, an Army Corps of Engineers official recently sent to prison in a contract scam case. Nor did investigators find $40,000 watches or guitars signed by rock stars similar to the loot they seized from former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who ripped off campaign donors to the tune of more than $700,000 and who is also in prison.
“To say it’s simply greed is too simplistic,” Judge Huvelle said. “What did he do with that time?”
At one point, according to testimony, investigators pressed Beale on whether he had a second family. He told them no.
In lengthy mea culpa in court Wednesday, Beale said “simple greed” motivated him, but he acknowledged something else, hinting at some revelations that could have surfaced during his recent months of therapy.
Citing his own insecurities, Beale, who had been one of the federal government’s highest-paid employees, said he developed a pattern of lying and manipulating to people close to him, including family.
He said he got a “rush of excitement” in getting away with it. As for how he spent his free time, he talked about working around his house and reading.
“You get into a habit of doing this just for the sake of doing it,” said Beale, who liquidated his retirement accounts to make good on $1.3 million in restitution and forfeiture combined in the case.
The Princeton-educated Beale said he didn’t know much shame in his life, but now “it’s my constant companion.”
“How I did this is also shameful to me,” he said.
James Smith, an assistant U.S. Attorney, deemed Beale’s time and attendance fraud “notorious” and “historic.”
The prosecutor said it all began with a simple falsified calendar entry more than a decade ago. But unchecked and unchallenged, Beale grew more emboldened. At his sentencing, Beale said he said he exploited flaws in the management system.
Toward the end of his more than decade-long scheme, he was telling stories of working for the CIA to explain his long absences from work, protecting people from torture.
“Mr. Beale never worked for the CIA, he never held a security clearance,” Mr. Smith said.
Unlike many defendants offered a chance to speak before they’re sentenced, Beale seemed to spend most of his time agreeing with the prosecution. He didn’t ask for a lenient sentence or offer excuses.
When the judge told him he was a stain on the federal workforce, Beale agreed.
Soon after Beale’s sentencing, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, issued a statement saying the case “highlights a massive problem with the EPA.”
“We need to know just how vulnerable is this agency,” he said, adding that the money had been stolen from “right under [EPA] Administrator Gina McCarthy’s nose.”
In a statement to The Washington Times earlier this week, EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said the fraud was uncovered by Ms. McCarthy when she was heading the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation.
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