A federal grand jury indicted former Atlanta chief financial officer Jim Beard on Wednesday.
According to the indictment, Beard faces eight charges including wire fraud, theft from government, possession of machine guns, making a false statement and obstructing federal tax laws.
“Jim Beard allegedly abused his position as one of the most powerful executives in the City of Atlanta to commit federal crimes for his own gain, including stealing tens of thousands of dollars of the public’s money, possessing machine guns that members of the public cannot have, and obstructing an IRS audit,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.
It’s the latest in a number of indictments involving bribery and corruption in Atlanta City Hall. Since January 2017, nearly a dozen people connected to city hall have faced criminal charges for a variety of acts, and nearly all of them have pleaded guilty.
Beard is the highest ranking member of Reed’s administration to be indicted so far. He served as CFO from Nov. 2011 to May 2018.
The U.S. Attorney’s office states Beard “devised and executed a scheme to defraud to obtain money and property from the city of Atlanta for private use.”
He’s accused of using city money to pay for personal travel for himself and family, to buy items for personal use including two machine guns, to pay for travel to conferences in which Beard was reimbursed but did not give that reimbursement to the city and to pay for travel that Beard reported to the IRS as personal consulting work.
Examples in the indictment include:
- Beard’s City of Atlanta credit card was used to pay more than $3,800 for hotel rooms at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Chicago for use by Beard’s step-daughter while attending the Lollapalooza Music Festival in 2015 and 2016, though Beard was not even in Chicago.
- Beard’s City of Atlanta credit card was used to pay more than $1,350 for a hotel room at the St. Regis Hotel in Atlanta, including $200 per night for an upgraded room, $70 for private dining, and $80 for rose-petal turndown service, even though: Beard lived in Atlanta; Beard’s wife flew from Florida to stay at the hotel with him; and Beard’s work calendar listed the notation “Do Not Schedule – PTO,” during one of the days that Beard and his wife stayed at the hotel.
- Beard ordered two custom-built machine guns that he caused to be delivered to Atlanta City Hall, after which Beard illegally took possession of the machine guns for his personal use – even though it was illegal for the machine guns to be possessed by anyone other than law enforcement and military personnel.
A grand jury subpoenaed the city in June 2019 asking for years of records related to Beard, who served as former Mayor Kasim Reed’s chief financial officer and remained in that position for several months under Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
The subpoena specifically asked for travel expenses, which would include records of lavish spending such as Beard’s 2017 stay at the famed Shangra-La Hotel in Paris, where rooms range as high as $4,600 a night.
Beard repaid the city more than $10,000 after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News requested his purchasing card records in 2018.
Beard said at the time that he thought he had repaid the city for his room upgrade but didn’t realize his check hadn’t cleared. Beard said he was in Paris performing “due diligence” about outdoor furniture used by that city.
Among the more unusual items named in the subpoena are expensive weapons apparently purchased with city funds.
It’s not clear why the city assigned these and any other weapons to Beard, who was the chief financial officer and not a law enforcement officer.
At the time of the subpoena Beard’s attorney sent a statement that reads, in part:
“After over a year of overturning every rock and sorting through every haystack, the government has been unable to uncover one single piece of evidence against Mr. Beard. Hopefully they will now begin dedicating their limited public resources to more pressing issues such as gang violence and cybercrimes.”
In December 2019, the city’s Board of Ethics and Independent Compliance ordered Beard to pay a $18,700 fine and $84,322 in restitution for improper purchases made with his city-issued credit card during his tenure as chief financial officer.
Beard’s lawyer, in a state court petition dated Wednesday, argues that the ethics board didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter because Beard wasn’t charged with the violations until seven months after he left office.
Channel 2 Action News is reaching out to Beard’s attorney to get a response to the indictment.