Georgia taxpayers spend nearly $200K a year on indicted insurance commissioner

Jim Beck, who has been suspended as Georgia's insurance commissioner since May 2019, still receives nearly $200,000 a year in state pay and benefits while he awaits his trial. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com
Jim Beck, who has been suspended as Georgia's insurance commissioner since May 2019, still receives nearly $200,000 a year in state pay and benefits while he awaits his trial. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

When Georgia Insurance Commissioner John King presented his agency’s midyear budget proposal to lawmakers last week, one of his biggest spending increases stood out like a sore thumb.

It stated $194,899 “to provide one-time funds for one filled executive position.”

That, King noted, is what the state is spending in salary and benefits for his predecessor, Jim Beck, who was indicted a few months after taking office in 2019 on charges alleging that he swindled his former employer out of $2 million, in part to fund his campaign for office.

Lawmakers included the same amount in last year’s midyear budget to pay Beck.

His trial is scheduled to take place later this year, but in the meantime, the state will have spent about $400,000 paying his salary and benefits while he has been fighting the charges.

Gov. Brian Kemp suspended Beck from office a few days after the May 2019 indictment, and Beck promised to defend himself vigorously.

“I am, in fact, innocent of these charges,” Beck wrote Kemp at the time. “In these circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to resign as commissioner of insurance.”

Since he didn’t resign but was suspended, the state is paying two insurance commissioners: Beck and Kemp’s choice to replace him, King.

Then-House Minority Leader Robert Trammell, D-Luthersville, filed legislation in 2019 to do away with pay for indicted officials, but his bill went nowhere during the 2020 session.

Beck, a Republican, worked for several state agencies, including the Department of Insurance, before running to head the office that regulates the insurance and small loan industry and investigates suspected arson cases.

He won election in November 2018 and took office the next January.

By that May, then-U.S. Attorney BJay Pak was announcing the indictment of Beck, a former leader of the Georgia Christian Coalition, alleging that he stole money to pay personal credit card bills and taxes, and pump money into his 2018 campaign for insurance commissioner.

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

In an effort to conceal a $2 million embezzlement scheme, federal prosecutors allege, Beck amplified business expenses to reduce his net business income. By inflating his business expenses by more than $1 million, Beck evaded income taxes due on the embezzled funds he received, the indictment says.

Three former Department of Insurance employees later sued the state and Beck, saying they were ousted as retaliation because he thought they provided information about him to state and federal officials and the media.

The insurance commissioner’s job will be back on the ballot in 2022. If Beck beats the charges, he is entitled to take back the post and stand for reelection. In the meantime, the state will continue paying two commissioners.

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