ATLANTA (AP) — Suspended Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck improperly took money from the private insurer he led and used it to buy campaign signs when the Republican ran for office in 2018, a witness testified Friday in Beck’s trial.
The testimony came as federal prosecutors continue to build their case that Beck embezzled from the Georgia Underwriting Association, an insurer Beck managed before he took office as the state's top insurance regulator in 2019.
Beck is accused of improperly diverting more than $2 million from GUA, an insurer of last resort that covers property owners unable to buy insurance on the regular market. He is on trial after he was indicted in 2019, months after taking office, on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and filing false tax returns. No one else has been indicted.
Georgia Underwriting Association Assistant Plan Manager Josh Mosley testified Friday that Beck directed him to use Georgia Arson Control program funds to pay a $4,271 invoice for 1,500 signs for Beck’s insurance commissioner campaign. Those signs were delivered to Beck’s Carrollton home. Georgia Arson Control offers rewards to people who report arson and provides grants to fire investigators. It’s associated with GUA.
Mosley said that after investigators began circling, Beck asked him to call the sign company representative and “get her to remember” that she donated the signs to his campaign as an in-kind donation.
“She said she did not remember,” Mosley testified. “She did not agree.”
Earlier testimony alleged Beck siphoned off other money by providing invoices to GUA contractors who in turn billed GUA and sent money back to Beck or entities he controlled. WAGA-TV reports Matthew Barfield, a cousin of Beck, testified Wednesday and Thursday that he was paid 10% of Green Technology's fees to create invoices for the company. He said at times he would meet Beck at a McDonald's or other locations to hand over checks and bank bags full of cash to Beck.
Green Technology Services was supposed to be gathering data to help underwriters determine the risks of properties it insured, but Barfield testified he did no such work. Green Technology was also supposed to be backed by a wealthy individual who was providing reinsurance to GUA, but Barfield said he wasn't that person and that no one else was associated with the company.
Despite the testimony, Barfield told the television station in an interview after court that he wasn't suspicious.
“Jim’s never gave me any reason to not trust him and I never thought anything else about it,” Barfield said.
Carrollton radio station owner Steve Gradick testified Thursday that he created a company called Paperless Solutions and billed GUA for services that Beck told others included chasing down policyholder emails. Gradick said he passed the money to a bank account for the Georgia Christian Coalition, which Beck headed, after Beck told him GUA directors wanted to revitalize the political group. But prosecutors say that Beck used the money from that account for his own purposes.
Earlier testimony from Steve and Sonya McKaig alleged that Beck directed them to include invoices for tens of thousands of dollars per month from Green Technology in the invoices that the husband and wife sent to GUA for services they provided. Sonya McKaig testified that Beck directed her to communicate with him through a personal email, cut checks for Green Technology and send them back to Beck in an envelope marked “personal and confidential.”
Mosley said that after Beck left, GUA didn’t pay the questionable vendors any more.
The trial continues next week. Beck's defense has yet to present its case. Lawyers argued Tuesday as the trial opened that Beck hadn't hurt the association but instead turned it from losses to profits. They argue that Beck was an innovator and that even if his methods were unconventional, there's no proof he meant to hurt the association. They also suggested Beck or someone associated with him provided valuable data, even if witnesses were unaware.
Mosley agreed during cross-examination Friday that third-party data about properties could be expensive.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.