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Climate change expert’s fraud was ‘crime of massive proportion,’ say feds

Written by Michael Isikoff, NBC News

The EPA’s highest-paid employee and a leading expert on climate change deserves to go to prison for at least 30 months for lying to his bosses and saying he was a CIA spy working in Pakistan so he could avoid doing his real job, say federal prosecutors.EPAs John Beale

John C. Beale, who pled guilty in September to bilking the government out of nearly $1 million in salary and other benefits  over a decade, will be sentenced in a Washington, D.C., federal court on Wednesday. In a newly filed sentencing memo, prosecutors said that his lies were a “crime of massive proportion” that were “offensive” to those who actually do dangerous work for the CIA.
 
Beale’s lawyer, while acknowledging his guilt, has asked for leniency and offered a psychological explanation for the climate expert’s bizarre tales.

“With the help of his therapist,” wrote attorney John Kern, “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.” Kern also said Beale was driven “to manipulate those around him through the fabrication of grandiose narratives … that are fueled by his insecurities.”

The two sentencing memos, along with documents obtained by NBC News, offer new details about what some officials describe as one of the most audacious, and creative, federal frauds they have ever encountered.

When he first began looking into Beale’s deceptions last February, “I thought, ‘Oh my God, How could this possibly have happened in this agency?” said EPA Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan, who spearheaded the Beale probe, in an interview with NBC News. “I’ve worked for the government for 35 years. I’ve never seen a situation like this.”

Beyond Beale’s individual fate, his case raises larger questions about how he was able to get away with his admitted fraud for so long, according to federal and congressional investigators. Two new reports by the EPA inspector general’s office conclude that top officials at the agency “enabled” Beale by failing to verify any of his phony cover stories about CIA work, and failing to check on hundreds of thousands of dollars paid him in undeserved bonuses and travel expenses — including first-class trips to London where he stayed at five-star hotels and racked up thousands in bills for limos and taxis.

Until he retired in April after learning he was under federal investigation, Beale, an NYU grad with a masters from Princeton, was earning a salary and bonuses of $206,000 a year, making him the highest paid official at the EPA. He earned more money than Gina McCarthy, the agency’s administrator and, for years, his immediate boss, according to agency documents.

In September, Beale, who served as a “senior policy adviser” in the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, pled guilty to defrauding the U.S. government out of nearly $900,000 since 2000. Beale perpetrated his fraud largely by failing to show up at the EPA for months at a time, including one 18-month stretch starting in June 2011 when he did “absolutely no work,” as Kern, Beale’s lawyer, acknowledged in his court filing.

To explain his long absences, Beale told agency officials — including McCarthy — that he was engaged in intelligence work for the CIA, either at agency headquarters or in Pakistan. At one point he claimed to be urgently needed in Pakistan because the Taliban was torturing his CIA replacement, according to Sullivan.

“Due to recent events that you have probably read about, I am in Pakistan,” he wrote McCarthy in a Dec. 18, 2010 email. “Got the call Thurs and left Fri. Hope to be back for Christmas ….Ho, ho, ho.”

In fact, Beale had no relationship with the CIA at all. Sullivan, the EPA investigator, said he confirmed Beale didn’t even have a security clearance. He spent much of the time he was purportedly working for the CIA at his Northern Virginia home riding bikes, doing housework and reading books, or at a vacation house on Cape Cod.

“He’s never been to Langley (the CIA’s Virginia headquarters),” said Sullivan. “The CIA has no record of him ever walking through the door.”

Nor was that Beale’s only deception, according to court documents. In 2008, Beale didn’t show up at the EPA for six months, telling his boss that he was part of a special multi-agency election-year project relating to “candidate security.” He billed the government $57,000 for five trips to California that were made purely “for personal reasons,” his lawyer acknowledged. (His parents lived there.) He also claimed to be suffering from malaria that he got while serving in Vietnam. According to his lawyer’s filing, he didn’t have malaria and never served in Vietnam. He told the story to EPA officials so he could get special handicap parking at a garage near EPA headquarters.

When first questioned by EPA officials early this year about his alleged CIA undercover work, Beale brushed them aside by saying he couldn’t discuss it, according to Sullivan. Weeks later, after being confronted again by investigators, Beale acknowledging the truth but “didn’t show much remorse,” Sullivan said. The explanation he offered for his false CIA story? “He wanted to puff up his own image,” said Sullivan.

Read more at NBC News.