Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Georgia
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 12, 2016
Former Augusta Fire Chief of Fire Prevention Bureau Convicted of Seven Counts of Extortion
Augusta, Ga: Yesterday, Jason Baron Beard, the former Fire Chief of the Fire Prevention Bureau, a division of the Augusta Fire Department, was convicted by a federal jury on six counts of extortion under color of official right and one count of attempted extortion under color of official right. United States District Court Judge J. Randal Hall presided over Beard’s four-day jury trial.
According to the evidence presented at trial, Beard extorted cash payments from two nightclubs in exchange for not assigning fire marshals to work “specials” and enforce the clubs’ occupancy limits. Beard would collect his payments from the clubs’ managers on the Saturday following the first Friday of each month, a date when restaurants, bars, and nightclubs in Augusta would hold special events and promotions to draw the largest crowds. Even when the nightclubs’ managers told Beard that the clubs were well over the occupancy limits, Beard continued to collect cash payments without ever even issuing a warning. So long as the clubs’ managers continued to pay Beard, he never assigned a fire marshal to that location. As a result, Beard knowingly allowed these nightclubs to operate in a dangerous and overcrowded manner on regular occasion and ignored a threat to the public’s safety.
United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver stated, “Acting as Fire Chief was not Mr. Beard’s job; it was the citizen’s job that he was hired to perform. He had no right to sell the public’s trust for his personal profit. The United States Attorney’s Office will continue to fight public corruption to help ensure the public’s safety.”
J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated “public corruption remains the FBI’s number one criminal investigative program priority because of the vast damage that it can cause within government and to the public’s trust in its government. The investigation and resulting federal conviction of former Augusta Fire Chief Beard illustrates the FBI’s commitment to following up on allegations in these matters, developing facts, and presenting them for prosecution.”
Mr. Tarver commended the hard work and dedication of the FBI, which investigated the case. Special Agent Charles E. McKee led the FBI’s investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys C. Troy Clark and Frederick W. Kramer prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States. Any questions should be directed to Mr. James D. Durham at (912) 341-7842.