Georgia’s former insurance commissioner reports to federal prison

Georgia’s former insurance commissioner, Jim Beck, turned himself in to begin his federal prison sentence Thursday, his attorney said. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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Georgia’s former insurance commissioner, Jim Beck, turned himself in to begin his federal prison sentence Thursday, his attorney said. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Georgia’s former insurance commissioner, Jim Beck, turned himself in to begin his federal prison sentence Thursday, his attorney said.

Beck, 60, was sentenced in October to seven years and three months of confinement followed by three years of supervised release for stealing from a former employer. U.S. District Court Judge Mark H. Cohen, who ordered Beck to pay $2.6 million in restitution, allowed Beck to start his sentence this week so he could have Thanksgiving at home.

Beck, who’s been monitored with an electronic device in recent weeks, was ordered to surrender at noon Thursday to the federal prison camp at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Randy Chartash, one of Beck’s trial lawyers, said Beck is starting his sentence while appealing.

“We have some good issues on appeal,” said Chartash, “and we expect to vigorously appeal his conviction and sentence.”

Beck’s conviction clears the way for John King, who’s been filling in since Beck’s indictment, to shed his interim title. Had Beck been acquitted, the law would’ve cleared him to reclaim his post as state insurance commissioner. King, a former Doraville police chief and general in the Georgia National Guard, will be officially sworn in by Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday.

King is the first Hispanic person appointed to statewide office in Georgia, hoping in 2022 to be the first Hispanic person elected to statewide office here.

“I’ve never shied away from a challenge, and I took this one with gusto,” King said at a campaign event in a Cartersville coffee shop recently. “The governor asked me to clean up the agency, and that’s what we did.”

Jurors found that Beck, a longtime player in Georgia GOP politics, deceived close friends and a cousin to drag them into his scheme to embezzle more than $2 million from Georgia Underwriting Association. Beck was general manager at the association — the state-created insurer for customers who’ve had trouble buying coverage — before leaving to run for state insurance commissioner, running the office that regulates insurance and small loan businesses and serves as Georgia’s fire marshal. Beck was suspended by Kemp just months into office in 2019 when the federal indictment came down.

Testifying at trial, Beck insisted he’d committed no scam and tried to blame a man named Jerry Jordan, who authorities believe might not exist. No one, including Beck, could find Jordan.

“The testimony was outrageous,” Judge Cohen said in court. “It was as if he was making it up as he went along.”

Before Cohen pronounced the sentence, Beck told the judge he understood the verdict and apologized vaguely for his actions and regretted the pain he’d caused those who trusted him.

“I am completely and totally responsible,” Beck said.