ATLANTA - An investigation by Channel 2 Action News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution uncovered another case of an Atlanta city official’s questionable use of a city purchasing card.
Channel’s 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher said the latest cases involved lavish expenses at one of the most luxurious hotels in the world.
Recent investigations by Channel 2 Action News and the AJC found scores of questionable expenses by then-Mayor Kasim Reed‘s security detail and the mistaken purchase of a first class airline ticket for current Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ husband.
We’ve now uncovered what appears to be a huge mistake at a Paris hotel which went uncorrected until we started asking questions.
Jim Beard, who was Reed's chief financial officer and close ally at City Hall, has expensive tastes.
While in Paris last year, for what he describes as due diligence about street furniture and other concepts which he didn't explain, Beard stayed at the famed Shangri-la Hotel, where rooms range from $1,200 to $4,600 per night.
According to his spokesman, the CFO wanted to upgrade his room and put the difference on his own credit card and not on the city's card.
Through a spokesman, Beard said a couple of months after the Paris trip, he discovered that all of the hotel bill had mistakenly gone on the city's credit card, so he wrote the city a check as reimbursement.
Then early this year, he discovered that check had never cleared, so he wrote the city a second check.
Beard's check for more than $10,000 is dated April 17 of this year, just weeks after the AJC and Channel 2 Action News obtained three years of Beard's city purchasing card records.
According to Beard, the Bottoms' administration discovered the un-reimbursed hotel expense after Beard asked for a thorough review.
Former federal prosecutor Jeff Brickman finds the whole story implausible and said reimbursing a year later doesn't absolve Beard of possible criminal liability.
“It's comical,” Brickman told Belcher. “I mean at what point do you realize that you just don't have a right to be using a card that way, unless you think p-card stands for Paris card.
“Well, that one seems a bit far-fetched,” current City Council President Felicia Moore said about Beard's claim that his reimbursement check did not clear.
She also took issue with Beard’s claim that his trip to Paris was about street furniture.
“I don't have any reason why this CFO would be reviewing street furniture. I'm sure we could have plenty of companies in the United States, and to spend that kind of money, it just doesn't make sense,” Moore said.
Beard's spokesman said the former CFO reimbursed for his entire hotel bill and paid his own airfare and meals because he extended his stay in Paris. But the city has none of the required documentation for such a trip.
A representative for Bottoms said the city is conducting a “thorough review of the needed checks and balances that ensure the people of Atlanta have confidence their tax dollars are put to use in a transparent and responsible manner.”
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