- Pickell, an unpaid volunteer who served as president at the foundation for the last eight years, wrote checks on foundation accounts to cover personal credit card bills for himself and his brother.
- He reportedly falsified expense reports.
- Pickell allegedly "borrowed" from petty cash funds.
- He spent as much as $38,000 on wine for himself or for his work as a restaurant and business consultant.
A statement released by the Beard Foundation trustees following the indictment said an independent audit found unsubstantiated expenditures totaling just over $1 million during the last three years. The audit did not extend to years before fiscal 2002.
Pickell has insisted all of his expenses were approved by the board, and his attorney continues to defend his lavish spending to entertain chefs, corporate sponsors and other VIPs involved with the foundation. "When you go to the finest restaurants in the world and entertain the finest chefs in the world, advancing the institute's purposes, you have to do it first class," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. He said his client's worst sin may have been "sloppy bookkeeping."
Pickell took a medical leave last summer following an investigation into the foundation's finances that revealed some irregularities. Critics had raised questions about how the foundation spent the revenues-$4.7 million last year-generated from sponsors and fundraising dinners at the James Beard House and at sites around the country. In September, Pickell resigned after an internal audit showed he had misused hundreds of thousands of dollars. The James Beard Foundation board promised at the time "to improve and implement much needed checks and balances." Among the steps it has taken:
- launching a search for a paid executive, the first in the foundation's history;
- retaining new auditors;
- implementing strict guidelines and review procedures for managing cash and reimbursing expenses;
- appointing an executive trustee committee to oversee restructuring of the board of trustees;
- instituting an ethics compliance policy for board members, employees and volunteers;
- making public financial reports; and
- exploring creation of a new structure to give the James Beard Foundation Awards more autonomy.