Friday, October 4, 2013

The Case of John Beale and the EPA’s Incompetence

This story is so absurd you’d think it was all made up –but it wasn’t. A high-ranking federal EPA official admitted to cheating the government out of nearly $1 million by pretending to be a secret agent pleaded guilty and invoked his 5th Amendment rights. 

John Beale got himself a cushy four-day workweek at the EPA for years by telling his bosses he had a one-day-per-week gig at the CIA, refused to answer even the most basic questions from Rep. Darryl Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. 

“I will be asserting my Fifth Amendment privilege this morning,” Beale, who also lied to superiors about serving in Vietnam, told Issa. 

Beale’s trickery, which began more than a decade ago, cost taxpayers an estimated $886,000, much of it in the form of unearned pay over some 13 years. Under his plea agreement, he must pay that money back, as well as an additional $507,000, and serve 30-37 months in prison. His lawyer told the panel that his plea agreement did not require him to cooperate with lawmakers, though Issa said he would seek to make it a condition of acceptance of the plea and sentencing. 

Inspector General Arthur Elkins, whose office unraveled Beale’s long-running deception, called it an “egregious and almost unbelievable case.” He testified that in addition to bilking the government for salary, Beale also had a longstanding requirement 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. 

Elkins said Beale was able to get away with the fraud for so long because of "an absence of even basic internal controls at the EPA." But Elkins was never able to directly question Beale because inspectors general, who serve as auditors of federal agencies, cannot compel former federal employees to talk. Beale retired just before the probe began. 

In subsequent criminal proceedings triggered by the probe, Beale admitted to taking one day a week off from work starting in 2000, and indicated on his EPA electronic calendar 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. 

In 2005, an EPA manager approved a research project that Beale had proposed, despite the fact that it had no internal controls or oversight. From 2005 to 2007, Beale took about five trips to Los Angeles for the project and was reimbursed for $57,000. The statement of offense says that he used the project to have the EPA pay for his personal travel, which included visiting family members in California. 

Beale came under suspicion when EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy expressed concerns about his expenses. Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan, who led the probe, said he interviewed some 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 Massachusetts vacation home. 

Sullivan contacted the CIA and determined Beale never worked for the agency. Beale finally came clean when investigators told him they wanted him to meet them at CIA headquarters. Rather than appear at the meeting, Beale admitted his deception. 

“He never showed up because he finally told his defense counsel that he never worked for the CIA,” Sullivan said. 

They gave him a day off every week for thirteen years without once asking for verification that he was working for the CIA? They paid his first class travel expenses without once asking for something to show he was on official business? They did not ask why CIA wasn’t paying for all this? John Beale may be going to a well deserved period of prison time, but there are people at the EPA who should be fired. But don’t look for this Administration to punish anyone for their incompetence – just like with the IRS and the Justice Department, look for someone to be “re-assigned”, allowed to retire on full benefits or even promoted. Punishing incompetence and stupidity admits responsibility and the Obama Administration refuses to take responsibility for it's mistakes.

Today's Reflection:
Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error. — Cicero

Live Long and Prosper....

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