ATLANTA: 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 the man, 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.
Beck identified the man by name, but it was unclear who he is, why his name is just surfacing now or whether he will testify. The person 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
I thought I could have a program developed that would scrape a lot of tax assessor sites, Beck testified.
Beck said he understood John Houser, then a board member overseeing GUA, had approved the project after Beck met with him in person. 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 GUAs 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, saying Beck himself is notoriously unorganized.
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.
Of the cash, Beck testified, that’s how the programmer wanted to be paid.”
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.
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