Plea hearing set for Atlanta’s former CFO in sprawling corruption case

Jim Beard’s case is the last of 10 in the years-long federal investigation
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 sent to prison in the federal Atlanta corruption investigation to at least nine.

Seven years after a vast corruption scandal at Atlanta City Hall came to light, the city’s former chief financial officer is scheduled for a federal plea hearing Monday in a related criminal case.

Jim Beard, who previously pleaded not guilty to eight felony charges, is due to appear before a federal judge in Atlanta at 10 a.m., likely avoiding a trial that was due to start in May. His case is believed to be the last of the federal government’s prosecutions stemming from the sprawling corruption investigation that lasted at least eight years.

At least nine other former Atlanta officials and city government contractors have been sentenced to prison in the extraordinary scandal that involved allegations of bribery, witness tampering, tax evasion and fraud, among other charges. The facts of Beard’s case are perhaps the most stunning of the lot.

Beard, the man responsible for the oversight and management of the city’s financial condition from 2011 to 2018, is accused of using public money to cover tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses and of cheating on his taxes. Prosecutors say he used city funds to pay for airline tickets, machine guns, lavish meals, luxury hotels and limousines for himself and his travel companions.

It is not clear to which charges Beard might plead guilty, or what the government’s sentencing recommendation might be.

Jim Beard the City of Atlanta's former CFO, leaves the Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta jogging to the car of one of his attorneys, Brittany Cambre, on Thursday, Sept 17, 2020. Beard ran to her car after entering a plea of not guilty to multiple federal charges.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

Beard used his city-issued credit card for a $10,277 stay at the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Paris, France, in 2017, records show. He later repaid taxpayers after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News obtained statements showing his use of the credit card during then-Mayor Kasim Reed’s last three years in office.

Beard is also accused of using $2,641 in taxpayer money to buy two machine guns for personal use. He claimed that the fully automatic weapons, which were delivered to his office in City Hall, were for the Atlanta Police Department. Prosecutors said Beard personally kept the guns, which were not the type of weapons the department would use and are not available for purchase by the general public.

Beard was indicted in 2020 on charges including wire fraud, theft from government, possession of machine guns, making a false statement and obstructing federal tax laws.

Beard’s trial was due to begin May 15, though his attorney, Scott Grubman, requested last month that it be postponed for at least 90 days. That was before the plea hearing was scheduled.

Scott Grubman, an attorney for former Atlanta CFO Jim Beard, leaves federal court on Sept. 17, 2020, after Beard pleaded not guilty to fraud and weapons charges. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

Grubman did not immediately comment on the plea hearing. He has previously said that Beard is innocent and was caught up in an investigation aimed at Reed, who was never charged with any crimes.

“If you add up the allegations here, it’s just a few thousand dollars, way less than the feds are ever interested in,” Grubman said at one point.

He later added: “This is maybe the first possession of a machine gun case where there’s no evidence the defendant ever possessed the machine gun or used the machine gun.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment Friday.

The corruption investigation took many twists and turns over the years since it first came to light on Jan. 17, 2017, when Elvin R. “E.R.” Mitchell Jr., a well-known CEO of an Atlanta construction company, was charged with conspiring to pay more than $1 million in bribes to help secure city construction contracts.

Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. walks to federal court on Oct. 10, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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Days later, the AJC and Channel 2 Action News learned of an apparent attempt to intimidate Mitchell after he started talking to federal authorities. In September 2015, someone threw a brick through Mitchell’s living room window with the words, “ER, keep your mouth shut!!!” Dead rats were also left on Mitchell’s property.

The man arrested in the brick-throwing incident, Shandarrick L. Barnes, had been listed as working as the chief financial officer for a public relations company owned by Mitzi Bickers, a campaign consultant who helped Reed win the mayor’s race in 2009. Bickers, who later served as the city’s director of human services, was sentenced in 2022 to 14 years in prison, accused of pocketing $2 million in bribes in the pay-to-play game at City Hall.

Some of the charges against Bickers were later dismissed after U.S. Supreme Court and appeals court rulings narrowed the definitions of certain offenses. Bickers is currently imprisoned at a federal facility in Florida with a release date of May 2034.

Mitzi Bickers arrives at the U.S. District Court from the underground entrance in Atlanta on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

All told, the corruption case has led to guilty pleas by Atlanta’s former chief procurement officer, former deputy chief of staff under Reed, former contract compliance officer and several former city contractors.

Throughout the law enforcement probe, the AJC and Channel 2 uncovered innumerable records in their own investigations, allowing them to report key pieces of the story as the case unfolded. City officials tried to block the release of public documents, leading the news outlets to pursue legal claims of “systemic violations” of the Georgia Open Records Act.

The news organizations agreed to drop their claims in 2018 after the city said it would work with them in drafting a comprehensive policy that would govern how the city responds to public records requests. The Reed administration then released 1.4 million pages of documents related to the federal probe.

Channel 2 and the AJC also obtained, through an open-records request, a copy of a $12,500 bill for dinner at one of Buckhead’s most expensive steakhouses in 2017 for Reed and members of his executive staff. The five-course meal at The American Cut included chili lobster rolls, filet mignon and an assortment of desserts.

The bill referred to the gathering as a “Holiday Dinner for Mayor’s Cabinet” for 40 guests. In a statement to the AJC and Channel 2, Beard called the event a “working” cabinet meeting that was held off-site.

Beard used his city-issued credit card to pay for two-thirds of the tab, and paid the balance with his personal credit card, records show.

Monday’s plea hearing is set for 10 a.m. in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

Timeline of Atlanta City Hall corruption cases:

Jan. 25, 2017: Contractor Elvin “ER” Mitchell pleads guilty to bribery charges.

Feb. 16, 2017: Contractor Charles “CP” Richards pleads guilty to bribery charges.

Sept. 25, 2017: Former Atlanta Chief Procurement Officer Adam Smith pleads guilty to accepting bribes.

Nov. 6, 2017: Former city employee Shandarrick Barnes pleads guilty to trying to intimidate a federal witness.

Jan. 10, 2019: Former Atlanta Deputy Chief of Staff Katrina Taylor Parks pleads guilty to accepting bribes.

Sept. 4, 2019: Former Atlanta Contract Compliance Officer Larry Scott pleads guilty to wire fraud and filing false tax returns.

Sept. 8, 2022: Former Atlanta employee and political consultant Mitzi Bickers is sentenced to 14 years for bribery, money laundering, wire fraud and tax evasion, before some charges were later dropped. Bickers is currently imprisoned at a federal facility in Florida. Her release is currently scheduled in May 2034.

Feb. 24, 2023: Former Atlanta Watershed Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina is sentenced to four and a half years in prison after being found guilty of conspiracy and federal program bribery.

April 19, 2023: Contractor Jeff Jafari pleads guilty to bribery charges.