Former Georgia insurance commissioner sentenced to 7 years

Jim Beck (Image from WAGA-TV)

ATLANTA – Georgia’s former insurance commissioner will spend more than seven years in prison, as he finally accepted responsibility Tuesday for a $2.5 million fraud even as a federal judge lambasted him for lying from the stand during his July trial.

U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen sentenced Jim Beck to seven years, three months in federal prison, less than the 10 years federal prosecutors had originally aimed for, but more than the five years Beck’s lawyers argued was enough.

Cohen also ordered Beck to pay $2.6 million in restitution and to serve three years of supervised release after he gets out of prison. Beck, 60, remains free on bail and is likely to report to prison in December.

Jurors convicted Beck in July on 37 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and tax fraud. The charges stemmed from Beck’s scheme to channel more than $2.5 million from the Georgia Underwriting Association through a series of companies to his own bank accounts. Beck managed the state-chartered private insurer of last resort for years before the Republican was elected insurance commissioner.

Federal officials began investigating Beck as he was elected statewide in 2018 as Georgia’s chief insurance regulator, indicting him weeks after the Republican took office in 2019. The investigation was capped by an eight-day trial that ended with jurors convicting Beck after less than two hours of deliberation.

“I’m completely and totally responsible, and again, I accept the jury’s verdict,’’ Beck told Cohen Tuesday before the judge sentenced him.

Cohen received 85 letters encouraging him to show mercy to Beck, attesting to his good works, Christian faith and love for his family.

“I hope that I have made life better more than I’ve hurt people,’’ Beck said. ``I do know that I have actively damaged precious relationships and I pray for restoration.’’

Also testifying on Beck’s behalf Tuesday were his sister and brother-in-law, former pastor, and wife.

“Today I see and live with a broken and repentant man,’’ said Lucy Beck, his wife.

Cohen gave Beck a shorter prison term than called for by federal sentencing guidelines, which called for Beck to serve eight to 10 years in prison. He said he was swayed by Beck’s past life, but said the former insurance regulator still needed to serve a long sentence for treating this former employer ``as his personal piggy bank.’’

Cohen on Tuesday belittled Beck’s testimony at trial, in which Beck claimed he had paid a computer programmer named Jerry Jordan for services to the association, but could produce almost no evidence Jordan even existed. Cohen variously called Beck’s testimony ``outrageous`` and ``incredible’' and ``a bunch of malarkey,`` saying Beck had ``earned’' extra time in prison for obstruction of justice.

“It appeared he was making it up as he was going along,’’ Cohen said.

Of the restitution, $2.26 million will go to Cincinnati Insurance Co., which repaid Georgia Underwriting Association for its losses. The remaining $358,000 will go to the IRS to repay for Beck’s tax evasion.

Cohen on Friday ordered Beck to forfeit more than $2 million, including $426,000 held in various accounts and two pieces of property worth almost $200,000. That money may be applied to the restitution he owes.

Beck has remained free on bail after his conviction, although mostly confined to his home in Carrollton, west of Atlanta. Beck was automatically removed from office on conviction. He had been suspended after his indictment but kept drawing a $195,000 yearly salary.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has appointed John King to run the office and the Republican is seeking a full term in 2022.