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December 18, 2013

Ex-EPA official who faked CIA status gets 32 months in prison

WASHINGTON — The former high-level Environmental Protection Agency official who masqueraded as a CIA adviser was sentenced to 32 months in prison Wednesday, after admitting that his long-running deception had become something of an addiction.

For more than a decade, John Beale skipped out of work for extended periods by telling his bosses that he was on a top-secret assignment for the CIA. Beale explained in court for the first time Wednesday that he was motivated by "a sense of excitement and the rush of getting away with something."

"You get into a habit of doing this just for the sake of doing it," he told U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle.

Beale, who was one of the highest paid federal employees when he retired this year, pleaded guilty in September to stealing more than $900,000 in taxpayer funds by collecting a salary, bonus and other benefits for work he never performed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Smith said Beale ripped off the government in "notorious, historic fashion" and had become a poster child for problems with the federal government. Beale lied about contracting malaria while serving in Vietnam to obtain a parking space that cost the EPA $8,000. He charged the government more than $57,000 for five trips to visit his family in the Los Angeles area.

"His actions are a stain on the work of tens of thousands of honest federal workers," Smith said.

An incredulous Huvelle called Beale's deception "unbelievably egregious" and pressed the air-quality expert about what he had done during his long absences from EPA's Office of Air and Radiation — and with his money.

"That's a lot of time," Huvelle said. "You could have just retired."

Dressed in a gray pin-stripe suit, and leaning on the courtroom lectern, Beale offered that he wasn't golfing or taking expensive vacations. He exercised, worked on his homes in Arlington County, Va. and on Cape Cod, Mass., and pursued a research project he had started years earlier.

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