Former Atlanta CFO Beard pleads not guilty in federal case

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)
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

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The former chief financial officer for the city of Atlanta pleaded not guilty on Thursday to an eight-count federal indictment that includes charges of wire fraud and possession of a machine gun.

The indictment accuses Jim Beard of abusing his city-issued credit card to make personal purchases, including luxury travel, and using city funds to obtain a pair of automatic rifles.

Beard made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Larkins III. The city’s former finance chief is the highest ranking city official to face charges in the corruption probe of City Hall, which stretches at least five years.

Beard, who now lives in south Florida, surrendered to the FBI Thursday morning. He entered Larkins' courtroom handcuffed and wearing a charcoal grey suit and black face mask. He said little during the brief hearing beyond entering his plea.

The other charges Beard faces include two counts of federal program theft, false entry on an application or record, and obstructing Internal Revenue laws related to an audit of his tax return from 2013.

The judge ordered Beard released on a $10,000 unsecured bond, with conditions -- including that he surrender his firearms to his parents.

200817-Atlanta- Scott Grubman, an attorney for former Atlanta CFO Jim Beard, leaves federal court on Thursday afternoon Sept. 17, 2020, after Beard plead not guilty to fraud and weapons charges. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
200817-Atlanta- Scott Grubman, an attorney for former Atlanta CFO Jim Beard, leaves federal court on Thursday afternoon Sept. 17, 2020, after Beard plead not guilty to fraud and weapons charges. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Scott Grubman, Beard’s attorney, said his client has been unemployed for about two years, has about $700 in his bank account and owes substantial debts. Beard earned more than $275,000 during his last year as CFO.

Grubman, who has represented Beard for more than a year as federal investigators scrutinized the former city executive, asked the judge to be Beard’s court-appointed lawyer. A decision on that is pending.

One of Mayor Kasim Reed’s top aides, Beard joined the city’s Watershed Department in 2010 and later became CFO. Beard played a critical role in city finances, as well as in the negotiations of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the renovations to what became known as State Farm Arena.

The indictment, handed down Tuesday and unsealed Wednesday, alleges Beard used his city purchasing card for personal expenses such as business-class airfare and limousine services. Other charges include more than $1,300 for a stay at the posh St. Regis Hotel in Buckhead, which featured “rose-petal turndown service,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors allege Beard used more than $2,000 in city funds to acquire two automatic rifles, claiming the guns were for the Atlanta Police Department.

Federal prosecutors subpoenaed City Hall for travel and spending records related to Beard following reports on his purchasing card spending in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The AJC found Beard spent lavishly with his city credit card, including a more than $10,000 stay at a Paris hotel, which Beard later repaid after the AJC sought his spending records.

The AJC and Channel 2 Action News also first reported Beard’s involvement in the purchase of the automatic rifles. According to documents reviewed by the AJC, Beard certified on federal forms that the weapons were for Reed’s security detail, but the guns never entered the city’s arsenal.

Beard later dropped off the weapons at police headquarters before he left city in 2018.

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