ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's suspended insurance commissioner testified at his federal fraud trial Tuesday, saying he oversaw valuable work for his former employer and that hundreds of thousands of dollars that flowed to an entity he controlled was not part of a scam.
Jim Beck took the stand in his own defense in federal court, where he is accused of diverting more than $2 million from the Georgia Underwriting Association, the state-chartered private entity he led before taking office as the state's top insurance regulator in 2019.
Beck was indicted in 2019, months after taking office, on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and filing false tax returns.
Beck’s testimony will continue Wednesday, but he told jurors Tuesday that he was paying cash to a computer programmer whose name has previously not surfaced publicly. Beck said he hired a man named Jerry Jordan, after bumping into him at a restaurant, to extract data from websites belonging to tax assessors and others to help GUA better judge and price its risks.
It’s unclear who Jordan is, why his name is just surfacing now or whether he will testify. Jordan’s name is not on the list of projected witnesses for the trial.
Beck said his goal was to pull down data from tax assessment records on items including the year a structure was built and how many square feet it had. Those numbers helped GUA determine the value that a building needed to be insured for and how much it should charge in premiums
“It allowed the company to rate property and, generally, in most cases, to get more money,” Beck testified.
He said employees and contractors who testified earlier may have believed they were doing all the work of looking up numbers, but barely “scratched the surface” of the 500,000 individual pieces of information that Beck said his project ultimately provided. He said Jordan provided him a laptop computer and that Beck received the information there and took it to GUA by memory stick or on paper printouts and had interns and employees enter the updated data.
Beck said he understood John Houser, then a board member overseeing GUA, had approved the project after Beck met with him in 2012. Beck said he and contractors only got paid when data allowed GUA to increase the premium it charged to cover a property. Houser, though, testified last week that he would have brought any such arrangement to the attention of the full board because Beck earning money from a vendor he hired would have violated GUA’s conflict of interest policy.
Earlier testimony alleged Beck siphoned off other money by providing invoices to GUA contractors who in turn billed GUA and sent money back to Beck or entities he controlled. Matthew Barfield, a cousin of Beck, was paid 10% of those amounts to create invoices using a company called Green Technology Services. Beck testified he hired Barfield to keep track of financial records.
“I am notoriously unorganized and I thought it would be nice to have someone to backstop me,” Beck said.
Beck kept 10% of the remaining money after Barfield's cut, and Barfield at first supplied the rest to Beck in cash, later sending the amounts by electronic transfer after moving to Florida. Beck, though, said he didn't keep the cash. He testified he would drive from his home in Carrollton to Newnan or LaGrange to meet with the programmer and hand over thousands in cash.
“The cash, that's how Jerry wanted to be paid," Beck testified, although he said later that method of payment was “a little unusual.”
Beck said he didn’t tell people the names of Green Technology or his own company that paid the programmer, Creative Consultants, or how the money was flowing, because “it didn’t seem relevant.”
Beck also testified Tuesday that his friend and another GUA subcontractor, Steve McKaig, was mistaken when he testified earlier in the trial that Beck told him Green Technology was also providing reinsurance to reduce GUA's risks. Testimony for the day ended before Beck could explain why McKaig was being handed Green Technology bills and in turn billing GUA for the work.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.