A judge Wednesday sentenced a senior Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official who bilked the agency out of nearly $900,000 and pretended to be a CIA agent to 32 months in prison.
John C. Beale, 65, pled guilty in September to charges of felony theft of government property. Beale soaked the EPA for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fraudulent travel vouchers and illegal bonuses over the course of 13 years.
Overall, he spent two and a half years absent from work while still being paid. He flew first class and stayed in five-star hotels in clear contradiction of agency policies, and he remained on payroll for over a year after a retirement party on a Potomac dinner cruise.
Along the way, he falsely claimed to be an agent for the CIA and a Vietnam War veteran.
"John Beale spent a decade telling one fantastic lie after another to steal our tax dollars," U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said in a statement Wednesday. "At some point, his commitment to public service warped into a sense of entitlement fueled by greed. Through this prison sentence John Beale will pay the price for his years of deception."
Beale’s strange saga flabbergasted and outraged EPA investigators and members of Congress.
"I thought, ‘Oh my God, How could this possibly have happened in this agency?" EPA Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan told NBC News. "I’ve worked for the government for 35 years. I’ve never seen a situation like this."
For more than a decade, Beale collected a salary bonus that should have expired. His gross salary topped $200,000 a year, making him the highest paid employee at the agency.
Two recent reports from the EPA Inspector General found the agency was first warned of Beale’s illicit salary bonuses in 2010. However, the agency did not cancel those bonuses and refer the case to the Inspector General’s office until February 2013, more than a year after Beale announced his retirement.
Beale’s defense attorney painted a different picture. Beale, his attorney wrote in sentencing documents, was driven by dysfunction, not greed.
"With the help of his therapist, Mr. Beale has come to recognize that, beyond the motive of greed, his theft and deception were animated by a highly self-destructive and dysfunctional need to engage in excessively reckless, risky behavior," attorney John Kern wrote.
Beale began working at the EPA in 1989. According to testimony by Sullivan at an October congressional hearing, Beale was a highly respected employee in the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.
Beale distinguished himself with his work on the Clean Air Act, but after the office’s work on the legislation wrapped up, Beale missed the limelight.
Kern wrote that Beale was driven "to manipulate those around him through the fabrication of grandiose narratives […] that are fueled by his insecurities."
Beale started telling his senior supervisors that he was a CIA agent around 2001. He then began taking long, paid absences from work, claiming to be in Pakistan or at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
Beale took a total of 33 trips between 2003 and 2011 that cost taxpayers $266,190. He flew first class on 70 percent of those trips, even though he was required to use business class if available.
Beale also secured a parking spot for the disabled at EPA headquarters, claiming he had contracted malaria while serving in Vietnam.
"Today’s sentencing closes the sordid chapter of John Beale’s numerous and egregious fraudulent actions perpetrated against the federal government over a very long period of time," EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins said in a statement. "While that chapter has ended, we have started a new one in which the OIG is actively looking at the EPA’s sloppy internal controls and management actions that enabled Mr. Beale’s frauds to occur."
The court ordered Beale to pay more than $1 million in restitution and civil forfeitures in addition to the prison sentence.
Because the EPA forced Beale into retirement, rather than firing him, he is entitled to a full federal pension.