By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adviser pleaded guilty on Friday to cheating the government out of $886,186 over 13 years of telling lies, including claims he had malaria and that he was working on a CIA project, officials said.
John Beale, 64, of New York, had skipped work for a total of 2-1/2 years while claiming to be working on a project for the Central Intelligence Agency's operations directorate and other jobs, the District of Columbia's U.S. Attorney's Office and the EPA's inspector general said in a statement.
Beale, a former top deputy to current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, falsely claimed to have malaria to get a parking space worth $200 a month. He was reimbursed $57,235 for five trips to California for a research project that was never completed.
Beale, who had worked at the EPA since 1989, also was given a three-year, 25 percent bonus to stay with the EPA that instead lasted 13 years.
"An absence of even basic internal controls at the EPA allowed an individual to commit multiple frauds over a long period of time," EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr said in the statement.
Elkins said he hoped exposing Beale's scheme would lead to agency reforms that would prevent abuses.
The plea comes as the U.S. government is bracing for a possible partial shutdown on Oct 1. Lawmakers are at loggerheads over whether to pass next year's federal budget, in part due to Tea Party activists aiming to block implementation of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform in their efforts to reduce the size of government.
Washington also faces an October 17 deadline by which the United States would have difficulty paying its creditors if the nation's debt limit is not raised.
From January 2000 to April 2013, Beale worked for the Office of Air and Radiation as a senior policy adviser, putting him among the highest-paid non-elected federal employees.
As part of his absences, Beale dodged work at EPA offices for about six months starting in June 2008. He claimed to be working on the research project or for "Langley," the CIA headquarters, but never submitted a leave request and still received his EPA salary, the statement said.
Around May 2011, Beale announced he was retiring from the EPA and held a party with two other long-time EPA employees.
An EPA manager believed Beale had retired as he did not see him at the EPA offices again. The manager discovered in November 2012 that Beale was still getting a paycheck, the statement said.
Beale had worked for McCarthy while she headed the Air and Radiation office from 2009 until taking over the agency in July.
The top lawmakers on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Democratic Chairman Barbara Boxer of California and ranking Republican John Vitter of Louisiana, expressed anger over Beale's fraud.
"It is outrageous that this admitted con man lied to his supervisors in order to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal government going back to the George W. Bush Administration," Boxer said in a statement.
Beale pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to theft of government property. Under the plea agreement, the penalty is a prison sentence of 30 to 37 months and a fine of up to $60,000.
Beale also has agreed to pay back $886,186 in pay and expenses to the EPA and a settlement of another $507,207, the statement said.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone)