- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2013

The high-ranking EPA bureaucrat who bilked the agency of more than $800,000 by pretending to be a CIA operative is in therapy trying figure out what — beyond greed — caused him to pull off perhaps the most infamous workplace attendance fraud in government history.

For years, John C. Beale explained his long, unexcused absences from work by telling superiors he worked for the CIA, even saying he needed a good parking spot because he contracted malaria in Vietnam. It was all a lie.

An extensive review of sentencing memos, pay records and other documents filed in federal court in recent days provides a fuller picture of Beale’s background and crime, which even the perpetrator is trying to understand.

“With the help of his therapist, Mr. Beale has come to recognize that, beyond the obvious motive of greed, his theft and deception were animated by a highly destructive and dysfunctional need to engage in reckless risky behavior,” an attorney for the former EPA official wrote in a sentencing memo.

Under federal sentencing outlined in defense and prosecution memos, Beale faces 30 to 37 months in prison, though federal judges are free to impose sentences above and below the guideline range. He is expected to be sentenced Wednesday.

Beyond greed, the defense filing said Beale’s behavior was fueled by insecurities, noting that he didn’t steal because of bad debts or the desire for a lavish lifestyle.

“Throughout Mr. Beale’s adult life, he has always lived within his means,” defense attorney John Kern wrote, summing up a once-prominent EPA official whose story of deception has angered lawmakers.

Beale refused to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in October.

Bigger mystery

While the new court documents paint a picture of an unremarkable, seemingly well-adjusted youth and steady climb through the EPA, the filings fail to shed light on a bigger mystery: How could Beale have carried out the fraud for so long?

Two new EPA inspector general reports criticize the agency’s lack of management oversight for failing to catch Beale’s fraudulent travel expenses, exorbitant pay and his years of getting compensated for bogus work. EPA officials were put on notice three years ago concerning suspicious about Beale, according to the department’s internal watchdog.

In an email, EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson called Beale “a convicted felon who went to great lengths to deceive and defraud” the government for more than a decade. Ms. Johnson said the fraud was uncovered by new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during her time as the head of the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation.

She said EPA officials put safeguards into place to protect against time and attendance abuse by employees.

While the court case covers conduct covering about a decade, Ms. Johnson said Beale convinced his managers that he was working for the CIA for nearly 20 years, adding that former EPA air chief Jeffrey Holmstead was the first senior official to be misled by Beale.

EPA officials didn’t question Beale’s claim to be a CIA employee until November 2012, Ms. Johnson said.

Impressing colleagues

Through the years, Beale impressed colleagues. A Minnesota native and the son of a minister, Beale rose through the agency hierarchy, eventually chairing the influential EPA Clean Air Work Group, according to court records.

He received a “gold medal” public service award from the agency in 1989, not long before President George H.W. Bush signed Clean Air Act amendments that Beale and others had helped develop.

EPA officials thought so highly of Beale that they gave him retention bonuses to stay, adding 25 percent to his salary, which was $164,000 when he retired from the agency this year. According to prosecutors, Beale was among the government’s highest paid non-elected federal employees.

Beale’s reputation and responsibilities grew over the next decade. By 2000, he was promoted to senior policy adviser, reporting directly to the assistant administrator in the EPA’s air office.

In 2000, as Beale would later admit, he recorded entries on his time sheets as “DO Oversight” when he was actually taking time off. Early on, Beale provided no explanation for his time off. That was because nobody asked, according to a defense memo.

But in 2001, Beale informed an unidentified employee or employees that he once worked for the CIA and was asked to participate in an interagency group working on CIA projects.

In the beginning, the fraud involved a day off here or there. But by 2008, he was absent from work for six months, explaining that he was “participating in an election year multi-agency project relating to candidate security,” according the defense memo.

When he did work, Beale was guaranteed a good parking spot thanks to his false claim that he contracted malaria in Vietnam.

Beale’s attorney, John Kern, said nothing in his client’s background ever hinted at Beale’s subsequent criminal behavior.

He interned for Sen. John Tunney of California. An aide in the office wrote of Beale: “Outstanding, the best intern with whom I’ve worked.”

By 1980, Beale had a law degree from New York University and a master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton University. Until his fraud scheme unraveled at age 65, his only other contact with the criminal justice system was a 1996 traffic citation for expired tags.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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