Jim Beck, suspended commissioner of the Georgia Insurance Department. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

Georgia’s acting insurance chief tells firm’s board members to resign

Acting Georgia Insurance Commissioner John King called on board members of the company his predecessor is accused of swindling to resign Monday and said his office will audit the firm’s books.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck was suspended from office in May after being charged in a 38-count indictment of scheming to steal $2 million from his former employer, the Georgia Underwriting Association. Federal officials say at least part of the money went to fuel his campaign for office, and they seized $80,000 from his campaign bank account.

The association is a state-created entity that offers property insurance to high-risk homeowners who have trouble getting coverage. Beck was general manager of operations until August 2018, when he left in the middle of his campaign.

Beck has said he’s innocent of the charges.

King was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp in June to serve as acting commissioner. King said part of Kemp’s charge to him was to restore trust in the agency.

“The Georgia Underwriters Association took a great deal of criticism in Mr. Beck’s case,” King told The Atlanta Journal Constitution. “In an effort to change the direction of that agency, I am asking for the resignation of the members of the board.”

King said he wants the new board to take a “more active role in managing that agency … to make sure what occurred in the past does not occur again.”

Part of the 12-member board is appointed by the commissioner of insurance, while other board members are chosen by insurance companies that are part of the association. The board is composed of insurance company executives, agents, university insurance professors and at least two former lawmakers involved in the insurance industry.

The acting commissioner said he did not intend to single out board members for doing a poor job of oversight. “I want to re-establish trust in the industry,” he said. “I am taking some prudent, commonsense actions to restore that trust.”

He said his office will also do a thorough review of the association’s books to make sure they are in order.

Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer, a member of the board, said he had already offered to resign.

“I have offered to resign every year for the last 20 years, and I have offered to resign to Commissioner King,” Shafer said.

Attempts to reach other board members were unsuccessful.

Jerome Guiney, the chairman of the board, sent out an email late last week saying the organization had offered the job of general manager of the Underwriters Association to the managing partner of an Arizona insurance consulting firm, contingent on the board’s approval.

The agency King runs regulates insurance and small-loan businesses. The commissioner also serves as the state fire marshal.

U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak alleged that Beck, an ex-insurance lobbyist and former leader of the Georgia Christian Coalition, used the stolen cash to pay personal credit card bills and taxes, and pump money into his 2018 campaign for insurance commissioner.

The evidence shows Beck lied to close friends he’s known for 25 years and a family member to get them to create companies to send invoices to his then-employer, Pak said. The invoices were often for work that wasn’t actually done, and Beck funneled the money back to himself, according to the indictment.

Two longtime friends, Steve and Sonya McKaig, told the AJC that they felt betrayed by Beck for getting them involved in the scheme. They both served in Beck’s administration for a few months but resigned after finding out more about the case against him.

Beck won election in 2018, borrowing about $1 million and putting about$400,000 from his own bank account into the race, most of it to win the May Republican primary. As the AJC reported, he raised relatively little outside money to best two GOP challengers. He outspent his Democratic challenger in the general election by a ratio of 27-to-1.

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