It’s a tale of fraud too ridiculous to make up: John Beale, an EPA senior policy advisor and purported climate change expert, claimed to moonlight as a CIA spook for 13 years and EPA's top officials believed the cloak-and-dagger story to the tune of $1 million.
John Beale, at one time EPA’s highest paid employee, managed to hoodwink EPA’s highest staff by simply strolling into work one day, claiming to work on the sly for the CIA, and then coming and going as he pleased, eyebrow cocked and trench coat collar to the wind. Beale doled out huge doses of credulity to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and her staff, and they swallowed the entire fairy tale, never questioning his daring cover stories or challenging his expense reports.
Beale lost his shine in February 2013, when his actions were finally presented to the Office of Inspector General, which called the Beale saga an “egregious and almost unbelievable case.”
From 1989 to 2013, Beale worked as an advisor in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR). The Wall Street Journal describes OAR: “It is the most powerful office within one of Washington’s most powerful agencies, given the costs it can impose on American business and consumers.”
Beale began his fantasy CIA agent stint in approximately 1994, floating his not-so-secret claims around EPA and layering the façade until 2001, when he gave his lies muscle by telling OAR Director Jeff Holmstead about his CIA role. Beale’s show of moxie worked and when Holmstead didn’t challenge or check the story, Beale the CIA spook was emboldened — and unleashed.
Beale soon had approval to be on CIA leave at least one day per week. No questions asked; no answers given. He also claimed that due to service in the Vietnam War (not true), he’d contracted malaria (again, not true) and received a reserved parking slot that cost $8,000 over three years. (Not to mention flying first-class on trips: Beale told management that coach class bothered an old back injury — no worries, EPA gave full first-class approval.) In addition, Beale was inexplicably raking in retention bonuses each year — all rubber-stamped by EPA officials, and at one point, Beale was EPA’s highest paid employee.
See related: Regulating ourselves to death
When an EPA office assistant dared to ask basic questions about Beale, she hit a wall. From the Washington Free Beacon: “… the only person to question his extended absences and travel expenses was an executive assistant in 2001, who was told by her supervisors to ignore it because Beale was a CIA man.”
There was no oversight of Beale’s actions and it appears EPA was willing to believe any story and pay any receipt related to Beale. By 2005, he was growing bolder and his fantasy getting bigger. Again, from the Beacon: “Beale accrued $57,235 in travel expenses for five trips to the Los Angeles area to visit family. Beale told EPA he was in Boston and Seattle. EPA staff never compared his travel vouchers with hotel receipts that showed him in Bakersfield. In another instance, he expensed a $14,000 first-class ticket to London and a more than $1,000-a-night hotel.”
Three years later in 2008, Beale didn’t come to work for six months, brazenly telling EPA supervisors he was working on a special CIA election-year project related to “candidate security.” Even Beale's six-month absence didn't wake up EPA officials: Leave, travel, bonuses — all continued to be approved by EPA senior staff.
Gina McCarthy, current EPA administrator, took over OAR in 2009 and Beale carried on without a hitch. As Michael Isikoff writes at NBC: “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 …”
From Beale’s secret agent emails to the EPA: “I am at Langley this morning.” Another: “I am in Pakistan … hope to be back in time for Christmas … Ho, ho, ho …”
From an internal EPA bulletin from McCarthy to EPA staffers regarding Beale: “We are keeping him well hidden so he won’t get scooped away from OAR anytime soon.”
And the band played on. Almost. In May of 2011, Beale officially “retired” — yet continued to draw full pay for the next 19 months. In March 2012, an EPA staffer told McCarthy that Beale was still receiving a paycheck, but the matter never made it to the Office of Inspector General until Feb. 11, 2013.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God. How could this possibly have happened in this agency … I’ve worked for the government for 35 years. I’ve never seen a situation like this,” Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan told NBC.
See related: EPA loves privacy rights, at least its own
Sullivan continued: “There’s a certain culture here at the EPA where the mission is the most important thing. They don’t like criminal investigators. They tend to be very trusting and accepting.”
(It seems very difficult to regard “trusting and accepting” as an even ballpark description of the EPA.)
In total, Beale missed 2.5 years of work as a secret agent. But if he wasn’t at Langley or battling the Taliban, what was he doing with all the time off? “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,” writes Isikoff.
He pled guilty in September 2013 to bilking taxpayers out of roughly $900,000 in salary and other benefits, and was sentenced to 32 months in prison.
In the end, Beale’s own greed did him in. If not for a sham “retirement” and continuing paycheck, EPA’s James Bond never would have been caught.
So much for oversight; so much for internal control at one of Washington’s most powerful agencies.