ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's insurance commissioner was indicted Tuesday on federal charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering that stem from alleged crimes that preceded his election.
The 38-count indictment accuses Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Jim Beck, 57, of devising an elaborate fraudulent invoicing scheme to defraud his employer out of more than $2 million over a five-year period just prior to his election in November.
The charges relate to Beck's time as general manager of operations for the Georgia Underwriting Association, or GUA, which was created to provide high-risk property insurance to Georgia homeowners. He was elected by the GUA board of directors and served in that position from January 2012 until he was sworn in as insurance commissioner on Jan. 14 of this year.
The indictment says Beck, a Republican, used the money for personal expenses and to fund personal investment, retirement and savings accounts, as well as his statewide election campaign. The indictment also says he used the funds to buy and improve personal rental property and for personal state and federal income taxes.
Bill Thomas, a lawyer for Beck, said in an emailed statement that Beck "strongly denies" the allegations.
"He acted legally and in good faith," Thomas wrote, adding that Beck "looks forward to clearing his good name."
Thomas also noted that the allegations do not relate to Beck's work as insurance commissioner and that he looks forward to continuing that work.
U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak acknowledged that the alleged crimes preceded Beck's swearing in as insurance commissioner.
"However, holding a powerful position does not shield you from the sins of your past criminal activities," Pak said at a news conference. "Justice and rule of law will catch up to you eventually."
While serving as general manager of GUA, Beck also had controlling financial interests in two businesses, Creative Consultants and the Georgia Christian Coalition, the indictment says.
Beck convinced four associates to form four separate businesses with the stated purpose of providing services to GUA, the indictment says. Those companies are named in the indictment only as Company A, B, C and D.
Beck then used an elaborate fraudulent invoicing system to produce false documents and, in his role as general manager, approved payments from GUA to the four companies, the indictment says. He then sent false invoices from Creative Consultants and The Georgia Christian Coalition to the four companies and directed his four associates to pay the invoices from the funds they'd been paid by GUA, investigators said.
The scheme ran from February 2013 through August 2018, the indictment says.
Pak said the investigation is continuing and wouldn't comment on whether additional indictments would follow. At least two of the companies provided no services for the money that they invoiced, and while the other two provided some services they also acted as a pass-through for billing for one of the other companies.
Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Atlanta, said the investigation began about 10 months ago, before Beck's election as insurance commissioner, and was based on a referral from the Georgia inspector general.
"Evidence established the fact that Beck abused the trust of friends and his employer, GUA, in an elaborate scheme to enrich himself at GUA's expense," Hacker said.
According to the Georgia Constitution, whether Beck is suspended from office while under indictment depends on whether the charges are determined to relate "to the performance or activities" of that office.
Once the governor receives the indictment, he must wait 14 days and then, if he believes the charges relate to Beck's performance of his responsibilities as commissioner, appoint a review commission made up of the attorney general and two other public officials.
The commission would have 14 days to hold a hearing and make a determination. If the commission decided that "the indictment relates to and adversely affects the administration of the office of the indicted public official and that the rights and interests of the public are adversely affected" by that, the governor would suspend him immediately pending the outcome of the case or the expiration of his term, whichever comes first.