Ex-Atlanta CFO pleads guilty in corruption case, faces 13 years

Jim Beard was due to stand trial in May
Former Atlanta CFO Jim Beard

Former Atlanta CFO Jim Beard

Editor’s Note: This story was changed to reflect former Atlanta Watershed Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina’s conviction on bribery charges. That conviction brings the total number of people sentenced to prison in the federal Atlanta corruption investigation to at least nine.

Atlanta’s former chief financial officer pleaded guilty Monday in a federal case alleging he used tens of thousands of dollars in city funds for personal travel and to buy two military-grade machine guns.

Jim Beard, also accused of cheating on his taxes, appeared before a federal judge in Atlanta. He pleaded guilty to one count of federal program theft and one count of obstructing IRS laws. He faces up to 13 years in prison.

Beard, 60, also agreed to pay an amount of restitution to be determined at sentencing, set for July 12. He has agreed to forfeit the machine guns.

“The (theft) charge basically says that I took money or property from the city of Atlanta or some other entity somehow related to the city,” Beard said when asked by the judge to articulate what he was pleading guilty to. “The other charge is that I took tax deductions that I was not authorized to take.”

Prosecutor Trevor Wilmot said Beard used thousands of dollars in funds from Atlanta, which had received federal grants, to pay for the travel and firearms, which he kept for more than a year before abandoning them at the city’s police department. Beard’s travel expenses included a three-night stay in a Chicago hotel for his stepdaughter to attend a music festival and a trip with a companion to a jazz festival in New Orleans, Wilmot said.

In 2014, Beard falsely claimed on his annual income tax return form more than $33,500 in business losses tied to a personal consulting business that he had not disclosed to the city, Wilmot said. He said the claimed business losses included $12,000 in travel expenses, some of which had been paid by the city.

Beard faces up to 10 years in prison on the theft charge and up to three years on the tax charge. He also faces up to $500,000 in fines. His attorney declined to comment after the plea hearing.

Beard, the Atlanta CFO in former mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, bought two custom-built, fully automatic rifles with city money. He ordered the guns, worth almost $3,000, in 2015 and received them the following year, records show.

His case was part of a yearslong City Hall corruption probe in Atlanta that brought multiple city officials and contractors before U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones. At least nine defendants were sentenced to prison. Beard was the last defendant facing trial; it was to start in May.

Beard was indicted in September 2020 on three counts of wire fraud, two counts of federal program theft and single counts of possessing a machine gun, falsifying an application or record and obstructing federal tax laws. Prosecutors dropped six of the charges as part of the plea deal.

The plea hearing was scheduled April 1, a few days after the judge denied Beard’s requests to exclude evidence that prosecutors obtained from the city of Atlanta; he also wanted to keep the machine guns out of the courtroom.

Beard also tried to suppress evidence about the dangerous nature of the guns, arguing that he had not been accused of using them. Prosecutors planned to explain at trial why federal law generally limits machine gun possession to military and law enforcement officers, and that such guns were not needed by the Atlanta Police Department, records show.

The judge also denied Beard’s attempt to suppress evidence of infidelity, finding relevance in the companions with whom Beard traveled at the city’s expense.

Beard used his city-issued credit card for personal trips to Chicago, Louisiana and Washington, D.C., according to his indictment. He also used city funds on a Chicago hotel room so his stepdaughter could attend Lollapalooza in 2015 and 2016, prosecutors alleged.

Prosecutors claimed Beard used public money to stay at The St. Regis Atlanta hotel in Buckhead, where he ordered hundreds of dollars worth of room upgrades, private dining and a “rose-petal turndown service” for him and his wife.

Beard, who earned more than $200,000 annually as Atlanta’s CFO from 2011 to 2018, also paid for work trips on his city-issued credit card and then personally kept reimbursements he received from conference organizers, prosecutors alleged.

In 2019, Atlanta’s ethics division ordered Beard to pay more than $100,000 in fines and restitution. In April 2022, an insurance company paid the city about $84,000 as restitution for Beard’s improper use of his city-issued credit card, which had prompted an audit.