Former Atlanta CFO Jim Beard indicted on fraud, weapons charges

<p>Jim Beard was former Mayor Kasim&nbsp;Reed&#39;s chief financial officer</p>
<p>Jim Beard was former Mayor Kasim&nbsp;Reed&#39;s chief financial officer</p>

Credit: � 2019 Cox Media Group.

Credit: � 2019 Cox Media Group.

The man entrusted for nearly a decade with the city of Atlanta’s financial future was indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday for allegedly cheating on his taxes and using public money to cover tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses — including buying two machine guns that are typically illegal for civilians to purchase.

A federal grand jury on Tuesday handed down an indictment against former Atlanta Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard, charging him with wire fraud, theft from the government, possession of machine guns, making a false statement, and obstructing federal tax laws.

The eight-count charging document covers a period between August 2013 and March 2018.

“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.

Beard worked at the city for virtually all Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration and for a short time under Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who asked him to resign in 2018. Still, Bottoms agreed to keep Beard on the city’s payroll while he attended a six-week management program at Harvard University for which the city had already paid $60,000, costing taxpayers an additional $30,000.

The federal corruption investigation of Atlanta City Hall has focused almost exclusively on the eight years in which Reed held the mayor’s office. It has netted seven guilty pleas — including from Reed’s chief procurement officer and deputy chief of staff, both of whom admitted to accepting bribes.

The federal corruption investigation of Atlanta City Hall has focused almost exclusively on the eight years in which Reed held the mayor’s office. It has netted seven guilty pleas — including from Reed’s chief procurement officer and deputy chief of staff, both of whom admitted to accepting bribes.

Beard and three other people are currently under indictment in the five-year investigation.

The theft charges against Beard differ from the overall trend of the investigation, which has focused mostly on bribery and the steering of city contracts.

Scott R. Grubman, an attorney for Beard, said in a statement that he and his client “vehemently disagree” with the allegations in the indictment.

“As the Chief Financial Officer for the City of Atlanta, Mr. Beard either served as the lead for, participated in, or advised with, numerous major transactions and projects for the city, which required him to take a number of authorized trips to facilitate the successful closing of those transactions,” Grubman said. “He also facilitated purchases by city departments, including the Atlanta Police Department."

A spokesman for Bottoms called the allegations serious and disappointing. He said the city will continue to assist with the investigation, and take further steps to deter wrongdoing or strengthen public trust.

Several investigations by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the past two years found that Beard used contacts in the police department to purchase machine guns and other weapons with taxpayer dollars, and that he used his city credit card for lavish expenses, such as a $10,277 Shangri-La hotel stay in Paris.

Federal prosecutors used a subpoena to obtain Beard’s credit card receipts after the AJC published its stories.

Beard told the AJC that he was in Paris to review a street furniture program, because the city of Atlanta was considering one of its own. He repaid the city for the hotel stay -- after the AJC requested his credit card records.

Some of the credit card expenses are highlighted in a Department of Justice press release.

According to the release, Beard used his taxpayer-backed credit card to cover a $3,800 Chicago hotel room for his step-daughter when she attended the Lollapalooza music festival in 2015 and 2016. Beard was not even in Chicago during the festival, the release says.

Beard also allegedly used his card for a $1,350 bill at an Atlanta hotel that included a $200 per night room upgrade, $70 for private dining and $80 for “rose-petal turn-down service.” The release says Beard’s wife flew in from Florida to stay at the hotel with Beard, and the indictment alleges that his work calendar noted one of the days as “Do Not Schedule -- PTO,” a common abbreviation for paid time off.

“This alleged fraud was not only a violation of the oath taken by this pubic official, but a theft of the public’s trust,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta.

The indictment alleges that Beard on at least three occasions billed travel expenses for conferences and board meetings that he attended on the city’s behalf to both the city and the organization hosting the event.

For example, the indictment says Beard received $1,191 from the University of Chicago in 2015 to attend a CFO Forum conference. To receive the money, he certified that he hadn’t received travel expenses from any other source.

“Beard deposited (a $1,191 check) into his personal bank account — even though the City of Atlanta had paid for Beard’s travel expenses,” according to the indictment.

Beard’s tax returns are also a focus of the indictment, which alleges that in 2013 Beard claimed losses of $33,500 from a consulting business on his tax form submission.

When the IRS audited the return, Beard allegedly tried to claim as business losses airfare, hotel and meal receipts that had actually been paid with his city of Atlanta credit card. Beard allegedly did not mention his consulting business on city financial disclosures.

Machine guns and public money

Beard’s use of public money on guns was also previously reported by the AJC.

In 2019, the AJC reviewed hundreds of city records turned over to the DOJ that showed Beard used public money to buy two automatic rifles, and that he certified on federal forms that the weapons were for Atlanta police, specifically Mayor Reed’s security detail.

Beard filled out documents, using the name of an Executive Protection Unit officers in 2015, but the rifles never entered the city’s arsenal, the AJC reported. Beard later dropped off the weapons at Police headquarters before he left city in 2018.

A police report obtained by the AJC said Beard dropped off the guns in a locked hard-shell case and asked officers to secure “his weapons” while he was “in between houses.” Police repeatedly asked Beard to retrieve the rifles, but he never would, according to the report.

“Because the CFO position was a non-law enforcement position, Beard’s role did not require him to carry or use a machine gun,” the indictment says.

Bottoms' office said two officers who admitted direct knowledge of the transactions are no longer on the mayor’s security detail.

"One has been reassigned and the other has retired,” a spokesman for Bottoms said.

The federal corruption investigation into Atlanta City Hall became public in early 2017 when two city contractors plead guilty to bribery charges. Since then four other city employees and one contractor have entered guilty pleas. Another contractor and three other city employees have been indicted. Former CFO Jim Beard is the latest.

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