Former Milledgeville Mayor Richard Bentley has pleaded guilty in Baldwin County Superior Court to 12 counts of insurance fraud.
Bentley was sentenced to 10 years probation, fined $2,000 and ordered to perform 160 hours of community service for committing fraud on seven victims dating back to September 2013, said Skye Gess, assistant district attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit.
Bentley, who formerly owned Wilkinson Insurance Agency, pleaded guilty on Friday to seven counts of misappropriation of insurance premiums and five counts of issuing fraudulent certificates of insurance.
Bentley has paid back $51,000, including $37,000 in restitution to the seven victims, Gess said. Bentley also paid back some other insurance customers, although he wasn’t required to.
“We discovered through the course of the investigation that there were other people we didn’t find criminal intent with, but there were other potential victims and he paid to cover their costs,” Gess said.
Before entering his plea, Bentley was required to pay restitution. His probation can be terminated after five years if he complies with the terms.
In February, Bentley resigned as mayor, citing health and business concerns as his former insurance agency was under investigation. Bentley’s attorney disclosed in court that the former mayor suffered from severe health issues, including a brain aneurism, Gess said.
Bentley attempted to enter an Alford plea, a deal that involved him pleading guilty without admitting guilt. That plea was denied.
“The state was opposed to that plea being entered, and the judge said he was not going to allow the Alford plea,” Gess said.
District Attorney Stephen Bradley said the guilty plea was fair based on the evidence and the fact that Bentley already paid back the victims.
The investigation did not reveal any fraud related to Bentley’s duties as mayor.
“This is misbehavior, and the folks who handled this on behalf of our office took it seriously, but there is no public corruption,” Bradley said.
Attempts to reach Bentley were unsuccessful Thursday. His attorney, Donald Oulsnam, also did not return a message left by The Telegraph.
In a special election in July local businessman Gary Thrower was elected to succeed Bentley, who spent 10 years as Milledgeville’s mayor.
In December 2014, the fraud investigation began when a trucking company owner complained to authorities that he had paid for a worker’s compensation insurance policy that did not exist, according to the police report.