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Gina McCarthy testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on her nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Capitol Hill in Washington April 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts) Gina McCarthy testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on her nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Capitol Hill in Washington April 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)  

EPA scandal shows how vulnerable the agency is to fraud, investigator says

If federal prosecutors have their way, former Environmental Protection Agency employee and climate expert John Beale could get 30 months in prison for pretending to be working for the CIA in Pakistan to avoid doing his actual job.

EPA Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan told NBC News that he doubted such fraud could occur at any other federal agency.

“There’s a certain culture here at the EPA where the mission is the most important thing,” Sullivan said. “They don’t think like criminal investigators. They tend to be very trusting and accepting.”

Beale plead guilty in September to tricking the government out of nearly $1 million in salary and benefits for more than a decade while he pretended to be working for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Beale’s attorney has urged the court for leniency and has said that the former EPA employee has come to realize the error of his ways.

“With the help of his therapist,” wrote Beale’s attorney. “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.”

Republican lawmakers have been hammering the EPA for allowing such fraud to be committed. The EPA inspector general’s report on the fraud found that lax internal controls allowed Beale to steal taxpayer dollars while posing as a CIA agent.

“It’s very apparent that there were significant failings within the EPA because fraud to this extreme isn’t by pure accident,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter. “These reports begin to shed light on something perhaps far larger than even the initial investigations indicated.”

NBC News reports that one of the inspector general reports found that “Beale took 33 airplane trips between 2003 and 2011, costing the government $266,190. On 70 percent of those, he travelled first class and stayed at high end hotels, charging more than twice the government’s allowed per diem limit.” Beale’s extravagant expenses were routinely approved by another EPA official who is now being investigated by the agency.

Beale retired after realizing he was caught, but kept drawing his salary for another year and a half. Beale’s retirement party was even attended by chief administrator Gina McCarthy, who then learned six months later he was still getting paid.

“I thought he had already retired,” McCarthy wrote in a March 29, 2012 email. She initiated a review that was sent to the agency’s inspector general’s office — which was not alerted to the fraud until February 2013.

“[Beale] is a convicted felon who went to great lengths to deceive and defraud the U.S. government over the span of more than a decade,” said EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson. “EPA has worked in coordination with its inspector general and the U.S. Attorney’s office. The Agency has [put] in place additional safeguards to help protect against fraud and abuse related to employee time and attendance, including strengthening supervisory controls of time and attendance, improved review of employee travel and a tightened retention incentive processes.”

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