By Stephen Deere – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga
A federal grand jury has charged former Atlanta Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard with multiple counts of fraud, alleging that he illegally acquired machine guns at taxpayer expense, unlawfully used a city-issued credit card and committed wire fraud.
The indictment against Beard contains eight counts. In addition to wire fraud and possession of machine guns, it alleges federal program theft, making a false entry on a U.S. Government application, and obstructing the internal revenue laws.
“Between August 2013 and March 2018, Beard devised and executed a scheme to defraud to obtain money and property from the City of Atlanta for private use,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Beard worked at the city for virtually all Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration and for a short time under Mayor Keisha Bottoms, who asked him to resign.
Beard’s attorney, Scott Grubman, declined to comment Wednesday morning until he has time to read the indictment.
“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. “Those in government leadership positions have an obligation to set the organization’s culture for ethical conduct. As alleged by the Grand Jury, Beard fundamentally betrayed that obligation.”
Several investigations by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the past two years revealed Beard used 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.
Beard told the AJC that he was in Paris to review a street furniture program the city of Atlanta was considering. He paid the money back to the city.
The AJC also showed Beard used his city-issued credit cards for other exorbitant expenses that appeared unrelated to city business.
Some of those expenses are highlighted in a Department of Justice press release about the indictment. 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 that his work calendar noted that the CFO was on vacation during the stay.
“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. “Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top priorities and we continue to work with our local and federal partners to protect citizens against officials who abuse that trust.”
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.
The AJC has asked the mayor for her reaction to the indictment. The AJC has also submitted questions to the police department about whether any of the officers who potentially participated in the alleged gun purchases were disciplined and if they still remain on the mayor’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.
“ATF will continue to dedicate federal resources in conjunction with crucial Federal and local law enforcement partners to the pursuit of eradicating and forestalling criminal activity in the Atlanta area,” said Beau Kolodka, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, ATF Atlanta Field Division.