Georgia insurance chief Beck declares his innocence, is suspended from office following indictment

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck on Thursday declared his innocence but asked the governor to suspend him from office two days after federal prosecutors released a 38-count indictment accusing him of an elaborate scheme to steal $2 million from his former employer before winning the November election.

Beck, a Republican, on Thursday sent a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp - who had called for his resignation - asking to be  suspended pending the outcome of the case. Kemp then signed an order suspending Beck, and the governor is expected to name a temporary replacement.

While he is suspended, Beck will continue to draw a $120,000 commissioner’s salary.

Beck, 57,  who turned himself in to the FBI on Wednesday, was expected to face a growing chorus of calls for his resignation in coming days. Top Democrats had already said he should quit.  Kemp joined in Wednesday, saying the indictment "severely undermines your ability to fulfill your official obligations." And his case is likely to be the source of much discussion at this weekend’s Republican Party convention in Savannah.

The suspension didn’t go far enough for some lawmakers.

House Minority Leader Robert Trammell, D-Luthersville, tweeted, “From insurance fraud to now cheating the taxpayers of Georgia out of their tax dollars. Completely selfish and wildly inadequate action. Resign, resign, resign.”

In his letter to Kemp, Beck wrote, “As you know, under our federal and state constitutions, I am presumed to be innocent until and unless convicted by a court of law. I am, in fact, innocent of these charges. In the circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to resign as commissioner of insurance.

“Nonetheless, I recognize the importance of having a commissioner of insurance who is able fully to devote all of his time carrying out the duties of managing the Department of Insurance and serving the citizens of Georgia.

“In the coming months, it will unfortunately be necessary for me to spend a significant amount of my time defending myself against these false charges. Preparing for that trial will be a significant distraction from my public duties.”

Judge Russell Vineyard on Wednesday imposed restrictions on Beck an ex-insurance lobbyist and former leader of the Georgia Christian Coalition, while granting him $25,000 cash bond. The judge said the commissioner can't travel out of state without permission and must recuse himself from any dealings with his former employer, the Georgia Underwriters Association. As insurance commissioner, Beck had regulatory authority over the association, a fact that troubled Kemp.

Through attorneys, Beck had denied all allegations and had said he intended to keep his job. Kemp couldn’t immediately remove Beck from office, but state law says the governor had two weeks to appoint a panel to consider whether he should be suspended.

U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak said Beck used the stolen cash to pay personal credit card bills and taxes, as well as pumping 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 the Georgia Underwriters Association, 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.

Beck could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted, Pak said.