Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. paid $2,200 more to an elections official and his country-Western band than was originally disclosed on his campaign finance statements, according to court documents filed by the Attorney General’s Office.
So far, the AG has declined to comment on the nature of the criminal case against Block and his father, Jerome Block Sr. But motions filed in First Judicial District Court show the investigation has produced more than 1,000 pages of evidence and 18 witness interviews, which have now been turned over to Block’s defense counsel.
Although the evidence itself has not been made public, an eight-page list of evidence begins to shine light for the first time on the breadth of the criminal investigation.
In April, Block Jr. was indicted on eight criminal charges related to his 2008 campaign, including alleged violations of election law, conspiracy and tampering with evidence. The two most serious crimes on the indictment allege embezzlement of public campaign funds Block collected under New Mexico’s Voter Action Act.
According to the indictment, the first count of embezzlement is for $2,500 on June 9, 2008, which corresponds to a payment Block made to then San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maez’ band, Wyld Country. Block initially told the press the band had performed at a rally on a ranch outside of Las Vegas, NM, but later confessed to the Las Vegas Optic that the event never happened.
The attorney general also lists a copy of a $1,700 check Block made out to Wyld Country among the evidence. Block did not report this payment on his campaign finance reports. The amount corresponds to the second count of embezzlement—$1,700 on June 23, 2008—the nature of which had previously been a mystery.
“I can’t believe he wouldn’t have told me about the $1,700—note the sarcasm,” Optic Editor David Giuliani tells SFR. “It looks like Jerome Block has some explaining to do.”
Block’s campaign finance reports show Maez had personally accepted $300 for campaign coordination. The AG’s filings show that Maez received a second check for $500, which Block also did not report.
According to the records, Maez later returned all the funds to Block.
Block’s attorney, Cammie Nichols, tells SFR the $1,700 was a payment error Block had attempted to correct, hence the refund to his campaign. Nichols says the Blocks will soon file motions to force the Attorney General’s Office to clarify the charges, which “are not exactly clear.”
“I think even the charging documents lend themselves to various interpretations,” she says.
From the list of evidence, it is clear the AG’s investigation went beyond the Maez payments.
New Mexico State Police Officer Rafael Gomez was interviewed for the case, and his Sept. 25, 2008 report on a break-in at Block’s La Puebla home is on the evidence list. Block claimed someone had broken into his office, stolen campaign documents and written “Spik Liar” in green crayon on the wall on the same day Secretary of State Mary Herrera told the press her office would be consulting with the AG regarding the $2,500 Wyld Country payment. The break-in case was closed due to lack of evidence.
The evidence list also shows prosecutors obtained handwriting samples from Block Sr., who is charged with tampering with evidence.
Larry Lujan, a PRC employee who was disciplined for using office resources to coordinate Block Jr.’s campaign, also was interviewed, as was Cordy Medina, constituent services coordinator for the Attorney General’s Office. Medina sent out a mailer for Block during the primary.
AG investigators also questioned two county-level democratic parties that each received more than $1,000 from Block: The Taos Democratic Party and the San Miguel Democratic Party. The party chairmen, Thomas “Chuby” Tafoya and Martin Suazo respectively, tell SFR they were asked to produce campaign finance reports.
Supporters of the Blocks, including state Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Los Alamos, previously suggested the prosecution is the equivalent of double-jeopardy because Block Jr. already paid $10,000 in fines and penalties assessed by the Secretary of State’s Office.
Cisneros says his statement came before he knew about the other charges.
“Now I think it’s up to the courts to determine his guilt or innocence,” Cisneros tells SFR. “Obviously, if there is a guilty verdict, at that point he needs to consider resignation from his position.”