ATL ethics board fines former CFO $100K for improper credit card use

Jim Beard, former Atlanta chief financial officer shown at a budget briefing in 2017. On Thursday, the city’s ethics board ordered Beard to pay an $18,700 fine and more than $84,000 in restitution for improper purchases made with his city-issued credit card. LEON STAFFORD/LSTAFFORD@AJC.COM

Atlanta’s Board of Ethics ordered Jim Beard to pay an $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.

The board on Thursday also approved a public reprimand against Beard for violating the city’s code of ordinances. The order and the reprimand will be placed in Beard’s personnel file.

The city solicitor’s office will be responsible for prosecuting the order if Beard fails to pay up. Ethics Officer Jabu Sengova said she knows of no larger sanctions levied against an individual.

The city of Atlanta's ethics office filed a complaint against Beard in January, alleging he charged nearly $150,000 in potentially improper expenses to his taxpayer-backed credit card from 2014 to 2018. But the ethics office investigation eventually found that a portion of the purchase were related to city businesses, or were already repaid.

The complaint followed reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News last year that showed Beard, former Mayor Kasim Reed and members of Reed's cabinet racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable charges on airfare, luxury hotels and high-end restaurants across the globe.

Beard’s stay at a luxury hotel in Paris wasn’t part of his restitution, for example, because he already repaid the city $10,000 last year after the AJC requested his credit card statements that revealed that charge.

Former Atlanta Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard.

Federal investigators also are scrutinizing travel and other spending records at City Hall as part of a multi-year corruption investigation.

Beard's Attorney Scott Grubman has argued that his client is not subject to any enforcement action from the city's ethics office because he is no longer an employee. Beard left the city in May 2018, after taxpayers covered $90,000 in his tuition and salary for a six-week business management training program at Harvard University.

Grubman said in a statement that Beard is “extremely disappointed” with the ruling, and will appeal.

“As Mr. Beard has stated on numerous occasions, he is not aware of any transaction or expenditure that was not fully justified,” Grubman’s statement says.

The ethics board in May rejected the argument that Beard is not subject to their jurisdiction. They maintained it has no merit again Thursday.

“It is not an argument that really stands up,” Board Chair Kate Wasch said.

Deputy Ethics Officer Carlos R. Santiago said if Grubman’s statement was true, an employee could avoid being held accountable for ethics violations by simply resigning.

According to a letter Grubman wrote to Wasch this month, the city wiped out Beard’s computer hard drive, leaving him unable to access records needed to defend himself.

“The concern that Mr. Beard is being denied due process by being denied access to any potentially helpful documents is not merely a hypothetical concern,” Grubman wrote. “It is supported by the City’s conduct in this case.”

But Santiago said that the information on Beard’s computer should be preserved in city’s cloud software. Beard could obtain it through a simple open records request to the department he once ran, Santiago said.

The board agreed.

“Just because a laptop is re-purposed does not mean that the actual contents were destroyed,” said Board Member Chris Gillmore.

Grubman said they’ve tried that but the city responded by saying it doesn’t have “custody or control of any records” that were stored on Beard’s computer.

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