It looks like the former CFO of Atlanta, Georgia was caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar.
In a series of events that showcase misappropriation of funds, acquisitions of firearms that private citizens aren’t authorized to own, and even alleged misinformation applied to forms to receive them; someone is going to have a very tough time explaining things away as the alleged incidents could carry some time behind bars.
Jim Beard, the former Atlanta CFO, was issued three Glock handguns and purchased two fully-automatic AR-15’s, according to police.
The U.S. Department of Justice is currently looking into why Atlanta’s former chief financial officer was issued these various weapons, two of which are illegal for him to even own, as the firearms in question were only supposed to be used by the Atlanta Police Department.
According to department records, APD Executive Protection Unit leader Captain David Jones purchased a Glock 43 9mm handgun in 2016 using taxpayer funds.
The firearm was meant to be used only by the police department, but was somehow instead issued to the then-Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard on the same day it was purchased.
What was odd about all this was that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office said that Beard’s duties as CFO did not require him to have a handgun. Not to mention, the means in which the weapon was even issued to him could be a violation of federal law.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had reported on the strange acquisition, noting that George Turner, who was the Atlanta Police Chief leading the department at the time the gun was supplied to Beard, said that the procurement of the weapon seemed to have been made outside the agency’s normal protocols.
Turner told the news outlet: “I had absolutely no idea that took place.”
The firearm fiasco doesn’t end there though, as after the questionable issuing of the Glock 43, the former CFO went on to purchase nine Glock 19 handguns using the city’s credit card. Beard said during the course of the purchase that the weapons were to be issued to the APD, but one of the guns managed to find its way being issued to Beard himself.
With two guns obtained via deceptive means, it seemed like two just wasn’t enough. In January of 2017, more Glock 43 handguns were purchased using tax dollars, once again being designated solely for APD officers; and Beard was issued one of those as well.
Beard returned the handguns to the APD after his time in office was complete in 2018, but some other firearms Beard had in tow is what has caught the DOJ’s eye. The DOJ is looking into two fully-automatic AR-15 rifles that Beard purchased with taxpayer dollars.
According to police, Beard misled the distributor of the federally-restricted rifles, saying they were for the APD, yet, Beard had kept the rifles himself.
In March of 2018, prior to leaving office, Beard logged the fully-automatic weapons into police custody. That entry log gave way to being used in an investigation of the illegally obtained firearms.
According to a police report filed regarding the two automatic rifles, the officer working the holding facility for the department stated the following:
“I placed 2 AR-15s into property that we were holding for Ex-CFO Jim Beard. 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.”
While Beard didn’t take the time to pick up his deposited firearms, the FBI was more than happy to come collect them. Bottoms’ spokesperson said that Beard listed an APD officer as a co-purchaser for the rifles, but that the officer told investigators that the CFO used his name on purchasing forms “without his knowledge.”
So far, things are not looking very good, and there’s still no rational as to why all the tax payer funded weapons were finding their way into the CFO’s hands. Furthermore, that manufacture that supplied the automatic weapons is one that the APD doesn’t even engage in business with.
Attorney Matthew Kilgo gave his thoughts as to why the CFO would have done something of this caliber:
“It sounds like he was in the market for a fully-automatic weapon and used the city to make the purchase for himself.” Kilgo mentioned that if that happens to be the case, Beard could be charged with a felony under state law.
On November 21st, the Atlanta Board of Ethics and Independent Compliance concluded that Beard used his city-issued credit card to make multiple other inappropriate purchases while employed as the city’s CFO. He was ordered to pay $84,322 in restitution and a $18,700 fine as a result.
A spokesperson for Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said that the APD has revised their internal procedures to ensure that the department’s firearms are not issued to unauthorized personnel in the future.
In the meantime, the mayor of Atlanta, Georgia is coming under some heavy scrutiny as of late. That’s because Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is being accused of dabbling into police vehicle funds in order to secure two high-priced vehicles to be used to cart her around.
The entity with which is the source of the scrutiny is none other than the Atlanta City Council, who bears the responsibility for approving monies for designated various investments that are meant to benefit the city.
The two cars in question are both luxury GMC Denalis, which are going to be used to chauffeur Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms around town. The total cost of both the cars was $175,000.
The Atlanta City Council is claiming that there was zero authorization from them to have the vehicles purchased for the mayor, since the money that was used to acquire them was actually stemming from a budget allocated for police vehicles.
The City Council had approved $2.6 million for 91 new police vehicles in the summer of 2017. The city finance department had taken money for the Denalis from those funds after Bottoms was sworn into office in January, 2018; despite the two cars not being included as part of the budget at all.
Bottoms said she never asked for the SUVs, but mentioned: “I was told they needed to order new cars, but I wasn’t mayor then.”
The Denalis came equipped with advanced communications systems, blue emergency lights and included the “ultimate package”: 22-inch rims, a sculpted chrome grille, perforated leather seats and premium floor mats, according to purchasing documents for the vehicles.
Captain David Jones, the commander of the team of officers assigned to protect the mayor, had been the one to actually place the order for the $87,500 vehicles.
Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, who was a council member in 2017, said the following regarding the purchase:
“You can’t ask the council to approve a list of vehicles and then turn around and use the money for something else,” and also mentioned that the purchase undermined the council’s check on the executive branch.
A spokesman for Mayor Bottoms said city officials didn’t have to adhere to the specific vehicles listed in legislation and eluded to describing the Denalis as police vehicles since they’re used for the mayor’s protection. Bottoms believes the vehicles were properly purchased, but not everyone is convinced.
Fraud expert Victor Hartman said the means in which the SUVs were acquired likely violated the city’s charter, which limits discretionary equipment purchases by the mayor’s office to less than $100,000.
While Hartman doesn’t consider the vehicles inappropriate for the mayor to have acquired, he did point out that the purchase violated the charter because the vehicles were contained on a single invoice, stating:
“It’s not good governance and lacks transparency.”
For the better part of a decade, the luxury SUV has been used to transport the mayor in office. A year after former Mayor Kasim Reed was elected in 2010, the city upgraded the mayoral transport vehicles to Denalis from the Ford Tauruses that the office previously toted.
Also, a mere four years later, Reed’s administration replaced the mayor’s SUV fleet without going to the council, much like Bottoms.
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In a 2015 email regarding replacing of the 4-year-old vehicles, then-CFO Jim Beard told an officer on the executive protection unit that the city’s finance department supported replacement of Reed’s vehicles.
But he quashed a request to repaint the brand-new vehicles at a price of about $5,000 apiece since it “could raise the interest of the media.”
Reed’s Denalis came fortified with blue lights and sirens, which became provocative after news came to light that the mayor’s security detail used them for routine travel, which is highly illegal.
William Perry, founder of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs and a frequent critic of Reed, said the vehicles symbolized the belief that the mayor was “beyond the rules and above the law.”
Going into the end of the election and soon to be dubbing of a new mayor in December, 2017, Police Chief Erika Shields asked Beard in an email for assistance in replacing one of the Denalis in the mayor’s fleet because of high mileage. From that point on, Captain Jones, the commander of the mayor’s executive protection unit, took charge of the request, according to emails.
Soon after, the department decided that two SUVs were needed. The city’s fleet manager wrote in an email to Beard on December 13th, 2017, stating:
“The vendor located two SUV Denalis (that) Captain Jones requested for the new administration.”
Beard responded two days later:
“I need this handled today.”
It’s unclear what made the purchase an urgent matter, but when Beard’s attorney, Scott R. Grubman, was reached out to regarding that matter, he declined to answer.
Attorney Scott R. Grubman had only this to say regarding the purchase:
“This was a purchase clearly requested by and authorized by the APD Chief. Any questions should be directed to Chief Shields.”
The APD have not commented as of yet regarding the vehicles or manner in which they were purchased at this time; however, it will be interesting to see how this all unfolds.