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Suspended Georgia insurance commissioner to go on trial

July 11, 2021 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck will go trial this week on charges that he swindled his former employer out of $2 million to pay personal bills and pump money into his 2018 campaign.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that jury selection begins Monday in federal court in a trial that could decide whether Beck goes to prison or gets his job back.

If convicted, Beck could face years in prison. If acquitted, he would return to being commissioner and could wind up running for reelection in 2022 against the man Gov. Brian Kemp appointed to replace him while he was suspended, John King.

Beck took over the agency, which regulates the insurance and small-loan industries and investigates suspected arson cases, in January 2019. He had only been in office four months when he was indicted. Kemp suspended Beck as Beck maintained his innocence.

“I am, in fact, innocent of these charges,” Beck wrote. “In these circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to resign as commissioner of insurance.”

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Beck, a folksy former top staffer in the Department of Insurance and onetime president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, won election in 2018.

The U.S. attorney’s office in the spring of 2019 charged Beck with fraud and money laundering in an elaborate scheme to defraud the Georgia Underwriting Association. With the stolen cash, the Republican allegedly paid his credit card bills and taxes — and even helped fund the 2018 campaign that landed him in office.

Beck was the general manager of operations for the association, a state-created marketplace based in Suwanee that provides high-risk property insurance to Georgia homeowners having trouble obtaining coverage.

A federal grand jury later added an additional count of mail fraud and four new counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns. Authorities alleged Beck listed more than $1 million worth of false business expenses on his tax returns for two of his businesses, Creative Consultants and the Georgia Christian Coalition, in an effort to conceal the embezzlement scheme, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Beck has denied the charges.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in January that the state has been spending about $200,000 a year on Beck’s salary and benefits while he’s suspended. That led lawmakers to approve a proposed constitutional amendment — which will be on the 2022 ballot — to eliminate pay for state officials suspended from office while facing felony indictments.