Will bars involved in fire marshal bribery case be cited?

Photo of Chief Jason Beard, with the Augusta Fire Department, who is on paid leave pending an external investigation.
Photo of Augusta Fire Chief Chris James

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — Jason Beard is a free man for the next 30 days. The former fire marshal has to report to a federal prison at the end of the month.

Federal prosecutors say Beard took money from two nightclubs by threatening to enforce fire safety regulations.

The venues are Level 9 Bar on Damascus Road and Rendezvous at the Three on Gordon Highway.

“I’m not condoning what they did and I think they should be reprimanded and give them a copy of the ordinance. All of them should be. But then we need to say, you two, you all are on probation,” Commissioner Grady Smith told us in February.

More than three months later, both bars still haven’t gotten into any trouble for their actions.

As fire marshal, Beard was supposed to ensure fire exits were clear and enforce the fire safety capacity. According to federal investigators, both nightclubs told Beard they were over capacity several times. One of them even indicated there were 600 people inside, which was 300 more than the requirement. Since both businesses knew they were over capacity, we wanted to know if city officials were working to punish them.

We reached out to the sheriff’s office VICE team. Investigators replied, “that’s going to be a Fire Department issue as it relates to overcrowding.”

Next we reached out to the fire department. A spokesperson’s reply: “that’s actually a question for law enforcement.”

Both agencies are putting the responsibility on the other, which leaves the question as to whether Level 9 and Rendezvous at the Three will ever be reprimanded for capacity issues.

According to city code, a violation of fire safety capacity can get the owner a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 60 days in jail. The punishment is up to the discretion of the judge.

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