Jurors convict former Georgia insurance chief in $2.5M fraud
ATLANTA (AP) — It took less than two hours Thursday for jurors to decide that Georgia’s suspended insurance commissioner was indeed a “fraudster” and not an innovator, as they convicted Jim Beck on 37 criminal counts relating to more than $2.5 million he embezzled from his former employer.
The verdict was a swift end after testimony that stretched over parts of eight days. Federal officials began investigating Beck as he was elected statewide in 2018 as Georgia’s chief insurance regulator, indicting him weeks after the Republican took office in 2019.
Prosecutors presented evidence at trial showing Beck orchestrated a scheme to channel millions from the Georgia Underwriting Association through a series of companies into his own bank accounts. Beck managed the state-chartered private insurer of last resort for years before he took office.
Beck testified in his own defense that subcontractors he directed provided valuable data that helped GUA increase its profits. However, prosecutors argued much of the supposed work was a sham.
Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 8 on mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and tax fraud charges. In part because the amount of money Beck stole is so large, he’s likely to face what U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen described as a “substantial” sentence.
Cohen allowed Beck to remain free on bail. He ordered Beck confined to his home in Carrollton, west of Atlanta, while awaiting sentencing except for court appearances, medical care and court-approved outings.
Under state law, Beck was automatically removed from office upon conviction. Gov. Brian Kemp has appointed John King to run the office and the Republican is seeking a full term in 2022.
Beck asked Kemp to suspend him when he was indicted, but continued drawing a $195,000 yearly salary. State lawmakers this year proposed a constitutional amendment to stop the pay of officials who are suspended from office while facing criminal charges. Voters will decide the amendment in 2022.
Prosecutors and Beck’s lawyers declined comment immediately after the verdict. Current GUA General Manager Joe Cregan said Thursday that insurers had paid GUA $2.5 million earlier this year for amounts Beck stole. He said GUA is still investigating to see if Beck took more money.
“The GUA’s board of directors and I want to reassure all Georgians that an incident like this will never happen again at GUA,” Cregan said in a statement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Gray said in closing arguments that Beck is a “thief.”
“He is an ordinary, plain, fast talking — and rich — fraudster,” Gray said.
Defense attorney Bill Thomas repeatedly told jurors that investigators didn’t understand the insurance business and that prosecutors hadn’t provided enough evidence for a conviction. He told the jurors “the government just has it wrong in this case” because Beck’s work transformed GUA from a longtime money-loser to a strongly profitable entity.
“A man who takes a company from worst to first — when in 40 years that company didn’t make money — can’t have an intent to harm or deceive the company,” Thomas said in closing arguments.
Thomas said that while Beck’s methods may have been “unorthodox,” that didn’t make Beck guilty of fraud.
Prosecutors pounded away at Beck’s credibility, arguing he concealed his financial interest in two companies, Green Technology Services and Paperless Solutions, that were getting money from GUA. They pointed to an email Beck drafted laying out how the trail of payments ultimately reached him, with Gray calling it “absolutely a smoking gun.”
Gray rehashed an email in which Beck posed as Green Technology owner Matt Barfield to the wife of a longtime friend, saying Beck was “caught red-handed lying.”
Beck testified that his work provided important data that allowed GUA to charge higher premiums and pay less to reinsurers to share its risks. Beck said that a man named Jerry Jordan wrote computer programs collecting that data. Beck testified he paid Jordan in cash Beck had accumulated in a safety deposit box and at his home, explaining a lack of bank account withdrawals.
Beck told jurors he doesn’t know where Jordan is today and had no correspondence to prove a relationship. However, former Haralson County Sheriff Eddie Mixon testified Thursday that Beck introduced Mixon to Jordan once at a community event.
Retired IRS investigator Bill Bruton testified Thursday that Beck reported around $880,000 of income from 2014 to 2018 that was never deposited in a bank and was presumably available as cash.
But jurors were unpersuaded, instead siding with prosecutors.
“Jim Beck treated that company that those customers paid money to as a piggy bank,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sekret Sneed said. “The defendant stole from his employer and he funneled that money to himself for his own benefit. And he lied about and he lied about on his taxes.”
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