Former Atlanta CFO used city funds to buy military-grade weapons

Former Atlanta Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard used city funds to purchase two highly restricted military grade rifles, certifying they were purchased for the exclusive use of the police department and then keeping them in his personal possession, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Beard, the city’s top financial officer under Mayor Kasim Reed, filled out a federal application in 2015 and listed an officer on the mayor’s executive protection unit as a co-purchaser on the order form for the fully automatic weapons. They were apparently not placed in the department’s arsenal, according to the documents.

Beard’s attorney, Scott Grubman, disputed that his client had personal possession of the guns, saying that “at most” Beard signed for their delivery “in his official role” as CFO.

The weapons did end up in police custody sometime before Beard left city employment in 2018. A police report says Beard dropped off the guns in a locked hard-shell case and asked officers to secure them while he was “in between houses.” Police repeatedly asked Beard to retrieve the rifles but he never returned to pick them up, according to the report.

Details of the purchase are revealed in dozens of pages of documents that the city turned over recently to federal prosecutors investigating corruption at Atlanta City Hall. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained the documents earlier this week.

Federal law normally bars civilians from possessing fully automatic weapons, which makes them coveted by some collectors.

The guns were officially logged into police custody in March and held in the department’s property room after officers cut the padlocks off the case. A property tag on the gun case lists Beard as the owner. The guns are now in the possession of the FBI, according to a city spokesman.

The police report also makes clear that the guns belong to Beard.

“I placed 2 AR-15s into property that we were holding for Ex-CFO Jim Beard,” says the March 14 report. “While Mr. Beard was employed by the city he asked us to secure his weapons because he was in between houses. After Jim separated from the city we contacted him a few times to ask if he could recover his property. He did not recover his property.”

Daniel Defense, a gun manufacturer near Savannah, custom built the rifles.

“We don’t do business with Daniel Defense,” a police spokesman said.

A spokesman for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Thursday that the officer listed as co-purchaser of the weapons told investigators that his name was used on the form “without his knowledge.”

The officer who wrote the March incident report was also on Reed's executive protection unit.

Among the records turned over to prosecutors are ATF forms transferring and registering the rifles, which are categorized as “machine guns.”

Reed didn’t respond Thursday to questions sent to him via text message and email.

Receipts describe one gun as having a 14.5-inch carbine barrel, the other a 10.3-inch barrel. A photograph shows the rifles with a manila tag that reads: “MIL SPEC.”

Attorney: purchases likely violated state and federal law

Automatic rifles are different than semi-automatics in that they continue firing until the shooter releases the trigger. Sales of new automatic guns are restricted to military, police and licensed dealers.

Matthew Kilgo, an attorney specializing in gun rights, said the purchases would have violated federal law unless Beard held a special license allowing him to deal weapons to law enforcement. It also would be a felony under Georgia law, he said.

“It sounds like he was in the market for a fully automatic weapon and used the city to make the purchase for himself,” Kilgo said after reviewing the documents at the AJC’s request.

Federal prosecutors in June issued a subpoena to the city's law department asking for all documents related to the rifles and other guns Beard purchased using city money. City and police officials declined to say if they notified the U.S. Attorney's Office about the weapons.

The subpoena was the sixth targeting Reed, or members of his inner circle, since the sprawling investigation began in 2016.

CFO Beard named in other federal subpoenas

Beard was one of Reed's closest confidants as head of the Finance Department, and has been the subject of other subpoenas in the investigation. The AJC previously reported that Beard used his city-issued credit card to pay for a $10,000 hotel stay in Paris, and to cover an $8,000 restaurant tab after a going away party for Reed and his cabinet.

Federal investigations asked for Beard’s credit card statements after those stories were published.

Documents related to the gun purchases include email exchanges between Beard and the law enforcement sales manager for manufacturer Daniel Defense. Beard worked out many of the details for the $2,600 purchase, the documents show.

On February 15, 2016 the manager told Beard that the guns’ serial numbers had been submitted to the ATF for approval.

“Are we still on track for mid-March?” Beard asked two weeks later.

When the sales manager notified Beard of the pending shipment, the finance chief asked that it be expedited so the weapons would arrive by Friday.

“You’ll probably have them tomorrow,” he replied.

Our reporting

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been reporting on the federal corruption investigation of Atlanta City Hall for more than two years. In June, the AJC reported that records about guns purchased with city money by former Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard were the subject of a subpoena by federal investigators. The weapons included two military-style rifles and two semi-automatic pistols. Documents turned over to federal prosecutors and obtained by the AJC on Thursday show Beard retained the automatic rifles after falsely certifying that he was purchasing them on behalf of the Atlanta Police Department.