Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Short Troubled Political Career Comes to an End

The short troubled political career of Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block, Jr. came to an end Wednesday as Block pleaded guilty to felony charges and agreed to resign from the PRC and never seek elected office again.

Block was expressionless through a hearing Tuesday in state District Judge Michael Vigil’s courtroom. He made no statement or apology.

Though he potentially faces up to four and a half years in prison as a part of a plea bargain made with the state attorney general’s office, he can avoid serving time if he completes a drug court program and meets other requirements of the plea agreement. Block has admitted he has a problem with prescription drugs.

He pleaded guilty to credit card fraud (making illegal charges on a state gasoline card) and identity theft (falsely using a state credit card issued to another PRC employee.) He also pleaded no contest to a charge of embezzlement. That charge stems from Block taking a car from a Santa Fe auto dealer for a test drive in July and never returning it.

The plea agreement also requires Block to plead guilty to another embezzlement charge, a count of violation of the the campaign reporting act and conspiracy to violate that act. Those charges are related to his 2008 PRC campaign when Block reported spending public campaign finance money on an event that never actually took place.

His resignation from the PRC will forestall any impeachment proceedings by the state Legislature. A House of Representatives panel this month began the process of an impeachment investigation. The Legislature had set aside $1 million for impeachment costs.

Block's resignation also allows Gov. Susana Martinez to choose Block's replacement to serve out the rest of his term, which ends at the end of next year. Martinez is a Republican, while Block's district, which includes Santa Fe and northern New Mexico, is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Block's father, Jerome Block, Sr., a former PRC member, also was charged in the election fraud case. Prosecutors told the judge that the charges against the elder Block will be dropped because Jerome Jr. took responsibility for falsifying the campaign finance report.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.