A jury heard opening statements from attorneys and cross-examination of witnesses Wednesday in the first day of the criminal trial of local insurance agent and Glynn County Commissioner Bob Coleman.
Both Bob Coleman and his wife, Sherry, were charged by a Glynn County grand jury in January with 15 counts of felony violation of the Georgia Insurance Code — five counts of insurance fraud and nine counts of violating the Georgia Insurance Code’s reporting and disposition of premium requirement.
Six additional charges against Bob Coleman came in June, two counts of insurance fraud and four of violating the Georgia Insurance Code’s reporting and disposition of premium requirement.
Both Colemans have denied all allegations against them.
The trial that began Wednesday deals exclusively with the six charges leveled against Bob Coleman in June.
That didn’t stop Brunswick Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Robert German with the state’s prosecution team from bringing in some of the supposed victims of the crimes alleged in the January indictment, however.
He kicked off the trial by giving the jury a rundown of the state’s case.
The first four counts in the June indictment deal with allegations from Robert Gary Jr., who accused the Colemans of taking three payments for homeowners insurance and pocketing the money.
During cross-examination, Gary said he had indeed made three payments for homeowners insurance, and that he had not found out until much later after he heard about the first set of indictments in January.
In 2018 while he was without insurance — but believed he had it — his roof suffered damage, and he was declined by another insurance agency until he could get it fixed.
Taking his turn at the podium, Coleman’s attorney, Alan Tucker with Tucker & Browning Law, noted what appeared to be discrepancies in Gary’s story.
He asked if Gary remembered getting a letter from his mortgage company earlier in August 2018, stating that because he did not have homeowners insurance, the company would be purchasing “forced insurance.”
Gary said he did remember, and he remembered being told it would cost more than if he secured insurance on his own.
Tucker asked if his original testimony was incorrect.
Gary responded that he couldn’t say, only that he didn’t know he didn’t have any insurance until January, when he heard about the indictment and went to Jeff Guest with Family First Insurance, who bought out Coleman Insurance in August of 2018, to make sure he did, in fact, have insurance.
Tucker also stated that it was Sherry Coleman, not Bob, who handled Gary’s insurance applications and payments, and that the prosecution could not prove the Colemans had pocketed it.
Before the jury entered the room, Tucker and German discussed what to do about Sherry’s testimony. Tucker said she had agreed to testify on Monday that Bob Coleman didn’t have much to do with Gary’s insurance policy but that her attorney — not Tucker — had encouraged her to plead the fifth on the matter as she is not a direct party to this trial.
Without her testimony, Tucker said he was at a disadvantage. They agreed to inform the jury that she had refused to testify and leave it at that.
Following Gary, German called Brittany McGowan, underwriting director of the Georgia Underwriting Association, to the stand.
She testified that the GUA did issue give a quote for an insurance policy for Gary to Coleman Insurance, but that no one ever followed up on it. As such, neither the association or any of its underwriting partners sold a policy to Gary.
Coverage doesn’t go into effect until the first premium is paid, she said, and the GUA never received a premium and never opened an account for Gary.
In fact, the only time anyone called to check up on Gary’s nonexistent policy was when Gary and Guest called to confirm whether or not he had one.
Next, German called Daniel Wilson to the stand.
The final two counts of the June indictment came from allegations made by Wilson, the owner of Mack’s Bar-Be-Que in Sterling. He claimed Bob Coleman took a check for workers’ compensation insurance but did not procure said coverage and instead pocketed the money, according to the indictment.
Before anything, German asked how long Wilson had known Bob Coleman.
Wilson said Coleman had been a longtime customer of the old Mack’s Bar-be-que owned by Wilson’s father on U.S. Highway 17 in Brunswick, and he’d known him for about 20 years.
The restaurant fell on hard times after the Georgia Department of Transportation installed a grass median blocking northbound left turns into Mack’s and a fire damaged the building. The building is now occupied by 5 de Mayo Mexican Grill.
About two years ago, he opened the new Mack’s in Sterling. Wilson said he’d worked in his dad’s restaurant for 18 years, and after a 10-year stint in pest control and construction, he was ready to come back to the restaurant business.
He needed to get workers’ compensation and general liability insurance, so he called Bob Coleman. They discussed it at Mack’s in June 2017, and Coleman agreed to get him insurance.
During cross-examination, Wilson testified that he knew very little about insurance and had mostly relied on Coleman to figure it out for him.
Wilson said he didn’t bother reading most of the paperwork he signed because he wouldn’t have understood it anyway, but assumed he was getting what he needed.
Like Gary, he said he found out about the January indictments and called Coleman Insurance, eventually getting in touch with Jeff Guest. He found out through Guest that he didn’t have any workers’ comp insurance.
Tucker revealed, however, that the Colemans’ then-secretary had contacted Wilson via an email address he gave them. In that email, she asked for more information that the Colemans needed to process his workers’ comp insurance policy.
Wilson admitted he didn’t check his email much, and that it’s likely he did get it and never read it.
The Colemans had procured general liability insurance for him, however. Aside from a brief lapse due to non-payment on Wilson’s part, Tucker said he got what he paid for.
German also called Gray Collier, with Bass Underwriters, to the stand.
Collier testified that Bass Underwriters had sold Mack’s a general liability policy, and had sent notification via mail to Mack’s to notify the business of some late payments. He also said there was no misunderstanding that Mack’s only had general liability through Bass, not workers’ comp.
While it was not related to the case at hand, the state called up Roosevelt Norris and Robert Tyler to the stand. Norris believed he was paying for Progressive car insurance through Coleman Insurance, and Tyler, a corporate investigator with Progressive, testified that Norris’ coverage had lapsed from December 2017 and January 2018.
Norris is one of the alleged victims in the crimes the Colemans are accused of in the first set of indictments delivered in January.
He claimed to have never missed a payment, but Tucker questioned that, stating that Norris had failed to produce receipts for those two months when he had for months before and after the lapse.
Tucker also said that Sherry Coleman had handled that policy as well and that Bob Coleman was not involved.
The judge presiding over the case, visiting Superior Court Judge David Cavender, reminded the jury that the last two testimonies were only to be used in forming their opinion of Bob Coleman’s intent in the case at hand and that the jury should not attempt to pass judgment on that case.
The trial will resume today at 9:30 a.m. in the Glynn County Courthouse and could continue into Friday.