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Feds back 'mid-range' punishment for EPA fraudster, despite 'massive' deception

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FILE: Oct. 1, 2013: Former EPA official John Beale at a hearing on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.

A high-ranking EPA official who cheated the government out of nearly $1 million by pretending to be a CIA agent faces sentencing on Wednesday -- though federal prosecutors are only backing a "mid-range" punishment for what they called a "crime of massive proportions." 

John Beale, a former EPA senior policy adviser, faces a sentencing hearing on Wednesday. Prosecutors put out a blistering statement last week about the fraud he committed, one of the more bizarre schemes run against the government in recent memory. He allegedly billed the government for first-class plane tickets and, for years, got paid for a spy job he never had. 

“Make no mistake: This defendant has engaged in crime of massive proportions,” U.S. Attorneys Ronald Machen and James Smith wrote in the court filing. “The nature of his deception was outrageous and notorious. … Although the defendant has no prior criminal history, his first criminal conviction was a blockbuster.”

Still, they argued that a medium-range sentence, between 30 and 37 months, is “reasonable.” They indicated they weighed the seriousness of Beale’s crime against his cooperation and the fact he was making full restitution of $886,186. 

Beale’s trickery began more than a decade ago and was largely a scheme to collect unearned pay over roughly 13 years -- essentially by saying he needed to take off one workday a week for CIA missions.

In 2000, Beale started indicating on his EPA electronic calendar that he was working at the CIA's Directorate of Operations. He told an EPA manager that he had been assigned to an interagency, special advisory group and continued to take the extra day off until 2008, at which point he took off for about six months, telling managers and employees he was working on the research project or working for "Langley," where the CIA is based.

Beale will be sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The maximum statutory prison term for such a crime is 10 years, according to court documents. Under the plea agreement Beale reached in September, he also must pay an additional $507,207. Machen and Smith agreed with a pre-sentencing report that recommended he pay a fine in the range of $250,000 on top of that.

Beale also bilked the government with a longstanding agreement with the EPA that he fly first-class due to a dubious back injury. One flight to London cost taxpayers $14,000, when a coach ticket would have cost just $1,000, according to court documents.

He was able to get away with the fraud for so long because of "an absence of even basic internal controls at the EPA," said Inspector General Arthur Elkins, whose office unraveled Beale’s long-running deception. Beale retired just before the probe began.

In addition, he lied about serving in Vietnam and contracting malaria to get a $200 a month parking space for which the EPA paid, according to court documents.

He came under suspicion when EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy expressed concerns about his expenses. 

Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan, who led the internal review, said he interviewed about 40 people, only one of whom ever suspected Beale’s life as a secret agent was a fraud. Investigators also compared Beale’s cellphone records to his travel expenses and determined that when he claimed to be in Pakistan and other locations on CIA business, he was really at his Cape Cod vacation home.