Harold C. Peele, the alleged ringleader of several U.S. Forestry Service employes who filed more than $50,000 in false overtime claims, yesterday was sentenced by a federal judge in Alexandria to serve three years in prison.
Despite pleas for leniency by Peele's lawyer, U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. said that "this was a deliberate, calculated scheme to cheat the government . . . and he got others involved in it with him."
Peele pleaded guilty last month to one count of conspiracy to file false claims for overtime. The maximum penalty for that offense is 10 years in prison. Peele had been charged with 129 counts of filing false claims but all but one of those charges was dropped in exchange for his guilty plea.
Investigators probing other federal agencies are looking into more than $12 million in overtime claims filed by 1,000 government workers during a one-year period. That investigation is focusing on what policy changes maybe necessary to curb possible overtime abuse and whether any criminal charges against other federal employes will be pressed.
Peele, a former GS-5 grade employe at the forestry service office in Rosslyn, was in charge of approving time card payments and overtime claims, according to court papers. Peele encouraged other employes to file false claims that he approved and he also filed claims for himself, feal prosecutors said.
Before his sentencing, Peele told Judge Bryan, "I just want to express that I regret what has happened. My main thing is that I defrauded the government and I'm sorry."
"When this is over my life shall continue and I shall be a constructive member of society," Peele said somberly.
Last week Vickey L. Ferrell was sentenced to six months in jail after pleading guilty to filing false overtime claims while working as a secretary at the Rosslyn office. Ferrell was indicted along with Peele on several of the 129 fraud counts with which Peele was charged.
Another forestry employe, Margaret H. Robinson, pleaded guilty on Oct. 27 to one of 23 counts of filing false overtime claims. Her sentencing was set for Nov. 24.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leonie Brinkema said yesterday that the government's investigation of the forestry service office has been completed.