Former Atlanta chief financial officer pleads guilty to stealing city money for trips and weapons

ATLANTA– Atlanta’s former chief financial officer pleaded guilty Monday to stealing money from the city for personal travel and weapons and trying to defraud the federal government on his income taxes.

Jim Beard, 60, pleaded guilty to one count of federal program theft and one count of tax interference in federal court in Atlanta.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones will sentence Beard on July 12. Beard could face as much as 13 years in prison, but will likely be sentenced to significantly less under federal guidelines.

Beard served as the city’s chief financial officer under Mayor Kasim Reed from 2011 to 2018, managing Atlanta’s financial resources. Beard is the tenth person convicted in an anti-corruption investigation into Reed’s administration. Most of the others were convicted on charges of giving or taking bribes for city contracts. Reed himself was never charged.

During his time in office, Beard used city money to pay for personal travel and to illegally buy two machine guns for himself, he admitted in his plea deal.

Federal prosecutors said Beard stole tens of thousands of dollars from the city, though the plea agreement detailed about $5,500 in thefts.

That includes spending more than $1,200 for his stepdaughter to spend three nights in a Chicago hotel room during a music festival in August 2015. Beard said he was there to discuss interest rates on city debt.

Beard also admitted purchasing two custom machine guns from Georgian manufacturer Daniel Defense in 2015, paying $2,641.90 with a city check. Beard had claimed the weapons were intended for the Atlanta police — it is generally illegal for civilians to own machine guns in the United States — but he kept them until he left them at the police department overseeing protection in 2017 from the mayor.

He also spent $648 on plane tickets to New Orleans to attend the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in April 2016, and later deducted the same cost from his income taxes by telling the IRS it was for his personal consulting business. Beard also doubled down by charging the city nearly $1,000 in travel expenses for a meeting in New York with a bond regulatory agency and then getting the same agency to reimburse him $1,276.52.

Beard also claimed $33,000 in losses on his consulting business on his 2013 income tax return, with the IRS ultimately allowing him to deduct $12,000 in business travel expenses that he never spent.

Under the plea agreement, Beard gives up his claim to the weapons and agrees to reimburse several entities, including the city of Atlanta.