Suspended Ga. insurance commissioner takes stand in his fraud trial

Suspended Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com
Caption
Suspended Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

Credit: Emily Haney

Credit: Emily Haney

Federal prosecutors call it a scam, a complex plot to steal $2 million. Jim Beck, the suspended Georgia Insurance Commissioner whose love of “The Andy Griffith Show” colors his folksy persona, calls it a win.

Beck took the witness stand in his fraud trial this week, saying the accusations against him are false. He’s charged with embezzling $2 million from his former employer, the Georgia Underwriting Association, before he won the 2018 election to be insurance commissioner.

Beck testified that what the government calls a scheme was actually an innovative initiative. He said it helped the association — a state-created entity that offers insurance coverage to high-risk customers — see its first profits in decades.

“And we didn’t have to raise rates,” Beck said, shrugging. “That’s a win.”

ExploreUpdate: Suspended Georgia insurance commissioner convicted of fraud

Beck, a well-known Republican in Georgia politics, is accused of using four companies to help with a project to verify that some customers were properly insured. Prosecutors said three friends and one of Beck’s cousins helped him, but Beck hadn’t told them a lot of the money would end up in his pocket.

The project, Beck said, was to help the association verify that customers were properly insured. This was supposed to be done by verifying various data points — does the house have a pool, a basement? — on customers’ policies, as well as filling in missing data points.

A lot of work needed to be done, which meant plenty of help was needed, Beck said.

“I was notorious for finding people at the carwash and saying, ‘Hey, do you want an opportunity?’” Beck testified.

One person he offered an opportunity to was Donna Akins. They met in 2016 when Beck was speaking to the Marietta Kiwanis Club, she testified, and she later made 1,500 signs for Beck’s campaign. The bill came to $4,000, Akins testified.

The money used for the signs was stolen from his employer, the government contends.

Steve and Sonya McKaig were close friends with Beck and his wife for decades when Beck approached them, proposing they set up companies that could do contract work for the Georgia Underwriting Association. This was part of Beck’s mission to bring costs down, he said.

The McKaigs are veterans of the insurance industry. Beck brought up the project on vacations the Becks and McKaigs took together, including one to Mt. Airy, N.C., Andy Griffith’s hometown, to celebrate Beck’s birthday.

Steve McKaig testified that he was happy for the opportunity — until he went to testify before the grand jury and saw evidence that Beck had lied to him repeatedly.

“I believed in Jim Beck,” McKaig said.

McKaig said Beck never revealed that he had an interest in Green Technology Solutions, the company Beck encouraged his cousin to start to help with the data project. The company was used, the government alleges, to funnel money from Georgia Underwriting Association to Beck.

Beck acknowledge receiving “profit for me” off the data project and said he didn’t mention this to Steve McKaig because it didn’t seem relevant.

“I don’t think it occurred to me until all this,” he said, referring to the case against him.