State prosecutors in the criminal trial of local insurance agent and Glynn County Commissioner Bob Coleman leaned heavily on a recording of an interview between Coleman and Doug Williams, a criminal investigator for the State Board of Workers' Compensation, as the jury trial continued through Thursday.
"There's a lot of victims out there. I mean a lot," Williams said during the interview, which was conducted in the Glynn Place Mall food court on Oct. 25, 2018.
"It's just unimaginable what you're telling me right now," Coleman responded on the recording.
Both Bob Coleman and his wife, Sherry, were charged in January with 15 counts of felony violation of the Georgia Insurance Code -- five counts of insurance fraud and nine counts of violating the Georgia Insurance Code's reporting and disposition of premium requirement.
The trial currently underway deals exclusively with a six-count indictment against Bob Coleman delivered in June, in which a Glynn County grand jury charged him with two counts of insurance fraud and four of violating the Georgia Insurance Code's reporting and disposition of premium requirement.
The first four counts in the June indictment deal with allegations from Robert Gary Jr., who accused the Colemans of taking three payments for homeowners insurance and pocketing the money.
The final two counts of the June indictment came from allegations made by Daniel Wilson, the owner of Mack's Bar-Be-Que in Sterling. He claimed Bob Coleman took a check for workers' compensation insurance but did not procure said coverage and instead pocketed the money, according to the indictment.
Bob and Sherry Coleman have denied all charges.
Thursday afternoon, the jury heard all but the last 15 minutes or so of Williams' 2018 interview with Bob Coleman. He asked Coleman about the business practices employed at Coleman Insurance Agency and discussed the crimes that the Colemans would later be charged with.
It was clear in the recording that Coleman was aware that some premium payments made to Coleman Insurance had not made it to the insurance companies.
In the recording, he admitted to Williams that customers had been getting notices of policy termination for years and that he didn't know why. He knew payments were coming in on time, and he was aware that several customers had received letters of termination in the mail.
He was "not sure how it got all sideways," however. It seemed simple to him, he would write a policy, the customer would pay him and he'd pay the insurance company.
His wife, Sherry Coleman, was at the center of much of the early conversation.
Bob Coleman said he would often question his wife's handling of customers' premium payments and policy applications, and that it wasn't uncommon for her to take payments and not apply them to customers' policies until days after receiving them.
He let Sherry handle all automobile insurance policies and others that required operating a computer, as he had difficulty learning how to do so.
In the interview recording, Bob Coleman said Sherry took a month-long trip to California in January 2018, during which he discovered the extent of the problem.
He tried "making it right" by refunding everyone who paid for insurance they didn't receive.
In the recording, Bob Coleman said he couldn't remember how many people he'd refunded, but that it was at least seven or eight. During Sherry's absence, he took money out of his retirement account and cashed in two life insurance policies taken out on his children to cover the refunds.
Among them were a $1,500 refund to Waynesville Septic and an $800 refund to Hutchison Stucco, Bob Coleman said. In the recording, Coleman and Williams also discussed a $5,000-plus check Sherry Coleman wrote to refund an individual for workers' comp insurance he paid for but didn't receive.
Just based on his investigation, Williams said in the recording that there were likely many people out there in similar situations and that it could take years to sort through them all.
Williams asked Bob Coleman multiple times why and how the problem had arisen.
Coleman said it probably had something to do with a failure to balance the business's three bank accounts -- one of which held customer premium payments in escrow until the bills came due.
He said he'd left those accounts to Sherry and claimed not to have any idea that she was not balancing the accounts.
Williams continued to press him, saying repeatedly that the money had to go somewhere and asking if it was deliberate theft.
Coleman repeatedly denied that that was the case and claimed he had tried to get a straight answer from Sherry on multiple occasions but was not successful. She would always tell him that she'd handle it, and he let her do so until January 2018.
"She's my wife, man. The woman I've been married to for 25 years," he said during the 2018 interview.
Near the end of the recording, Coleman told Williams he would provide whatever documentation he needed to sort the whole mess out.
Williams testified on Thursday that Coleman had provided none of the requested documents.
It was Coleman's seeming lack of knowledge his defense attorneys rested heavily on in attempting to refute Robert Gary Jr.'s claims.
On Thursday, the jury heard that Gary's policy had been written by Sherry Coleman while she was working on a contract basis for Jeff Guest, who purchased the business in August 2018.
Bob Coleman was not involved in the transaction in any way, according to Alan Tucker, Coleman's attorney.
Tucker previously objected to including the interview recording in evidence at all on the basis that it was irrelevant to the case at hand. He did not object to the prosecution playing the recording on Thursday, saying it didn't hurt Coleman's case.
Earlier in the day, the jury heard testimony from April Hutchison, of Hutchison Stucco, Renee Serafini, of Frank Serafini Builders and Jeff Guest, of Family First Insurance.
Hutchison told the jury that Coleman had indeed refunded them for payments made on a general liability insurance policy and that he had been very apologetic about it. He did not attempt to hide the truth or keep them quiet she said.
Coleman had not refunded Serafini Builders for payments made on a workers' compensation policy, Renee Serafini said, and her company ended up on the hook for more than $40,000 in additional workers' comp premiums.
The prosecution and defense spent all morning cross-examining Guest, who purchased all assets from Coleman Insurance Agency in August 2018.
According to Guest, he and Coleman agreed on $80,000 for the office equipment, the Coleman Insurance name and Coleman's book of business, among other things. Guest said he had only recently re-entered the insurance business after an extended health-related absence and was looking to give his new venture a boost.
The deal went south when he found out about Williams' investigation -- which had been ongoing for months before the purchase -- and the allegations against the Colemans. Bob Coleman made no mention of it during their negotiations, Guest said.
He stopped making payments after the first because the business was "essentially worthless," and because he believed Coleman had deceived him during negotiations.
He considered the contract null and void from the get-go, however, as the paperwork stated that the business was in compliance with all state and federal regulations and good standing with all applicable agencies.
The trial will resume today at 9:15 a.m. in the Glynn County Courthouse.
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