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Jurors deliberate in trial of suspended Ga. insurance chief

Last Updated Jul 22, 2021 at 2:44 pm MDT

ATLANTA (AP) — Jurors must now sort out who they believe after the prosecution and defense told two very different stories about suspended Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck’s tenure managing the Georgia Underwriting Association.

Beck’s federal fraud trial concluded Thursday in Atlanta with closing arguments following testimony that stretched over nine days. After federal prosecutors dismissed six counts, jurors must consider their verdict on 37 charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and tax fraud. Beck was indicted months after taking office as insurance commissioner in 2019.

Prosecutors argued the evidence shows Beck stole more than $2 million from the state chartered insurer of last resort that he managed, dreaming up a scheme to funnel money to himself through a series of companies, but not actually providing many of the services that he told investigators he performed.

“The evidence makes completely clear that Jim Beck … is a thief,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Gray. “He is an ordinary, plain, fast talking — and rich — fraudster.”

But defense attorney Bill Thomas repeatedly told jurors that investigators didn’t understand the insurance business and that prosecutors hadn’t provided enough evidence to merit a conviction, saying “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.

Prosecutors used their closing arguments to again attack Beck’s credibility, arguing he had concealed his financial interest in two companies, Green Technology Services and Paperless Solutions, that were doing work for GUA. They pointed to an email that Beck drafted laying out how the trail of payments ultimately reached him.

“It is absolutely a smoking gun and it is great evidence of fraud,” Gray said.

He also argued that testimony at trial showed Beck was willing to lie and deceive even close friends, noting he testified that he posed as Green Technology owner Matt Barfield in an email to a wife of a longtime friend, with “Matt” even adding Beck to the email chain.

“It is being caught red-handed lying,” Gray said. “It is crushing evidence that he’s guilty of everything charged.”

But Thomas pointed to disputed testimony that Beck had properly notified the company’s chairman of his plan and said that while Beck’s methods may have been “unorthodox,” that alone is not enough to make Beck guilty of fraud.

“It’s not enough to say there was a conflict of interest, and we do not concede there was one,” Thomas said.

The defense argued that Beck’s work provided important data that allowed GUA to charge higher premiums and pay less to reinsurers to share in its risk. Beck testified that a man named Jerry Jordan was the computer programmer who wrote the programs that collected that data. Beck testified there weren’t any withdrawals from his bank accounts to pay Jordan because he paid him in cash he had accumulated in a safety deposit box and at his home.

Beck said he doesn’t know where Jordan is today and has no correspondence to prove his relationship, but on Thursday, former Haralson County Sheriff Eddie Mixon testified that Beck introduced him to Jordan once at a community event, that Jordan showed off a computer program and that Beck said Jordan had come to see him to collect his pay in cash.

Also, Thursday, retired IRS investigator Bill Bruton said he examined Beck’s bank accounts from 2014 to 2018 and concluded he reported around $880,000 of income those years that was never deposited in a bank and was presumably available as cash.

Thomas argued that just because GUA employees didn’t know about data provided by Green Technology didn’t mean it wasn’t there, saying the government hadn’t explained how the company’s performance had improved so much without it.

“He created those relationships,” Thomas said. “He solved those problems, and as they say, the proof is in the pudding.”

But as throughout the trial, prosecutors saw it differently.

“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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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

Jeff Amy, The Associated Press