ATLANTA -- Georgia's suspended insurance commissioner told jurors Wednesday that his trial “is my last chance” to persuade them and the wider world that federal investigators ignored the truth in a misguided rush to indict him. But with Jim Beck on the witness stand for more than six hours Wednesday, it also was the federal prosecutors' chance to try to demolish his credibility.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Gray questioned Beck with withering scorn as the defendant sought to back up his story about providing services to the Georgia Underwriting Association, which he led, in exchange for more than $2 million in payments.
The Republican was indicted on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and tax fraud months after he took office in 2019.
In Wednesday's testimony, he stuck by his contention that a mystery man named Jerry Jordan had provided the computer brainpower to gather data that GUA used to charge customers more and cut the costs the property insurer of last resort paid others to share in its risks. Those steps, Beck testified, help transform the state-chartered insurer from a chronic money-loser to a profitable entity.
“The government's theory of the case is predicated on there being a harm,” Beck said. “In reality, there was a benefit. So I would suggest to you, if there is no harm, there is no crime.”
But Beck admitted he didn't know where Jordan was, didn't know the proper name of Jordan's company, didn't have a written contract with Jordan, didn't have the laptop computer Beck said Jordan provided him, didn't even have a Jordan business card. Beck said he lost track of Jordan after he moved “out West” to pursue a woman he met online.
“He is the secret behind both Green Tech and Paperless,” Gray said, naming the two companies prosecutors say Beck invented to embezzle money from his employer.
Beck also testified that he paid Jordan in cash he had accumulated and stored in a safety deposit box and at home, explaining why GUA-linked payments from Green Technology Services and Paperless Solutions never left his bank accounts.
“I agree with you it's bizarre, but at the end of the day I paid to do the work and the work was done," Beck said of the cash payments he said he made.
Beck argued that the basic flaw in the case is that FBI agents concluded that “Jerry” only referred to Jerry Luquire of Columbus — Beck's fellow Christian Coalition activist who died in 2014 — instead of believing there could have been another Jerry. Beck testified that he met Jordan after Luquire bumped into Jordan in a restaurant and introduced him to Beck.
“Every statement you take out of my mouth, you take as a continuation of a lie, when it’s a continuation of the truth,” Beck said. “If people believe you, I’ve been lying for five years.”
Gray focused, in the end, not on Beck's supposed relationship with Jordan, but on emails that Beck wrote posing as Matt Barfield, the man who prepared the invoices for Green Technology Services, which collected payments from GUA and a husband-and-wife set of contractors to GUA.
“We're talking about whether you tell the truth,” Gray said, in questioning why Beck wrote emails signing his name as “Matt," with “Matt” even at one point including Beck in correspondence.
“It did not bother me because I was conducting business on a domain names I owned and emails I owned,” Beck said.
Gray drilled Beck on why he never told GUA employees or some of his contractors that he had a financial interest in the work. Beck testified he got more than 10% of the money paid by GUA, and in some cases substantially more.
“The financial arrangement was not relevant to the work,” Beck testified. “I have lots of friends I don’t discuss my financial arrangements with.”
Beck said those friends turned on him and testified for the prosecution because they were intimidated by the federal investigation and jumped to the wrong conclusion.
“People do what people do when the federal government begins knocking on their door, and sometimes they put two and two together and get six," Beck said.
Testimony continues Thursday.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.