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Las Vegas Optic Managing Editor David Giuliani expressed surprise during an interview this morning at how quickly the grand jury indicted PRC Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. Wednesday.
Giuliani and others testified before the District Court grand jury in Santa Fe March 25 regarding reports that Block Jr. lied to newspaper reporters about his educational background, past arrests and other information.
Giuliani received a second subpoena to testify before the grand jury, which reconvened Wednesday. He was there in case jurors had additional questions, he said, adding that he was surprised when told at about 10 a.m. that he could leave, and the indictments came before noon.
“I didn’t expect the grand jury to make the indictments so quickly,” Giuliani said.
He also expressed surprise that Jerome Block Sr. was indicted.
“In all my reporting, I had no idea the father was involved in this,” Giuliani said.
The office of Attorney General Gary King, which is prosecuting the case, provided no explanation of the charges or of the elder Block’s alleged involvement. A spokesman for the AG told the Associated Press there would be no comment.
“I hope the Attorney General’s Office will release the reasons behind these indictments, not only in fairness to the public but also in fairness to the defendants,” Giuliani said. “We need to know the basis of these charges against Block and his father.”
Block Jr. is charged with eight felony counts related to alleged misuse of public campaign funds during his 2008 election. Wednesday’s indictment specifically charges him with two counts of violating election laws, two counts of conspiracy to violate election laws, tampering with evidence, conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, and two counts of embezzlement of public election monies, in the amounts of $2,500 and $1,700.
Voters in District 3, which includes Los Alamos County, elected Block, a Democrat, to a $90,000 a year seat on the Public Regulation Commission in November despite growing reports of wrong doing in the final months of his campaign.
Last year the secretary of state ordered Block Jr. to pay $21,700 as penalty for lying on a campaign finance report and misusing public funds.
On a July 3 campaign finance report, he listed a June 9 payment of $2,500 to the Wyld Country band, whose members included the San Miguel County clerk, for entertaining at a May rally.
The performance never occurred, although Block repeatedly insisted it had. He eventually admitted he had lied, saying he had sought to avoid further publicity and was unsure how to reflect a refund on the report.
Later, he told the secretary of state he reported the expenditure because he was paying the band for a future performance.
Block Jr. was fined by the secretary of state $5,000 for lying on the report about the payment to the band, and another $5,000 because he used primary election funds to write the check to the band after the primary season had ended.
He also was fined $1,000 because he contributed $700 to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton to help defray her presidential campaign debt, which the secretary of state said was an improper use of public funds. He was told to repay the $700.
Secretary of State Mary Herrera also ordered Block Jr. to reimburse the state $10,000 of the more than $101,000 in public funding he received for the race.
Block Sr. is a former PRC commissioner. He is charged with four felony counts including violating election laws, conspiracy to commit violations of election laws, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence.
“Our position is that this is a pointless prosecution, that this should not be a criminal case,” Block Jr.’s lawyer, Cammie Nichols told the Associated Press. The Blocks “had no intent to take money that wasn’t theirs, they cooperated with the secretary of state’s office, and they resolved all the issues of concern” raised by that office, she said.
The PRC is comprised of five members tasked with regulating utilities, telecommunications, motor carriers and insurance. Block attended a hearing Wednesday on a rate increase for the Public Service Company of New Mexico but left before it was over, in the early afternoon, according to Commission Chairman Sandy Jones.
Jones said he didn’t think it was necessary for Block to step aside and not participate in pending regulatory matters.
“He has been working hard, that’s my personal experience with him,” Jones said. “He hasn’t given me any indication that he is incapable of doing his job thus far.”
Block handily defeated the Green Party candidate Rick Lass in the general election.
The Associated Press contributed this story.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Las Vegas Optic is owned by Landmark Community Newspapers Inc., the same company that owns the Monitor.