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AG: Block investigation a top issue

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By The Staff

SANTA FE — Attorney General Gary King said investigating a Public Regulation Commission candidate who has acknowledged lying about an expenditure he made with public funds is a “top-burner” issue for his office.

But King said he’s not sure when a decision will be made about whether to pursue charges against Jerome Block Jr., the Democratic nominee for a PRC seat in northern New Mexico’s District 3.

Block in a campaign finance report said he paid $2,500 to a band — whose members include the San Miguel County clerk — for a performance at a May campaign rally.

Block insisted numerous times to the Optic that Las Vegas country band Wyld Country performed at a rally in May. Last week, he admitted to the Optic that he lied that the band entertained. Indeed, the rally never even occurred, the county clerk, Paul Maez, told the newspaper.

Block told the Optic in an e-mail that he wanted to avoid further publicity and was unsure how to reflect a refund.

King said his office was gathering information about the case, but his office has yet to receive a formal complaint from the Secretary of State’s Office.

“I think between the secretary of state and us, it’s a front-burner issue,” King said. “We’re committed to investigating serious allegations and spending all the time necessary to investigate.”

Block, 31, repaid the money Friday at the Secretary of State’s Office, said James Flores, a spokesman for Secretary of State Mary Herrera.

Maez, who belongs to Wyld Country, has told the Optic that he gave the money back to the Block campaign months ago.

Block could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, his campaign manager, Jonathan Valdez, told media in Santa Fe last week that someone burglarized Block’s home Thursday morning and that it appeared as if documents, including campaign finance records, were stolen. Valdez said there was no sign of forced entry.

The repayment of the $2,500 came as Common Cause New Mexico said “vigorous action” should be taken by the secretary of state to investigate Block.

Under state law, candidates for the utility regulatory panel may participate in a public financing system using taxpayer dollars for their campaigns.

Common Cause says Block apparently violated two sections of the law, requiring timely truthful reporting and requiring public funds not used for legitimate campaign expenses to be refunded to the secretary of state’s office.

Common Cause New Mexico helped get the law passed in 2003, and executive director Steven Allen said in a letter to Secretary of State Mary Herrera that such conduct by candidates “can tarnish public confidence” in the system.

The secretary of state’s office had suggested it would need a complaint filed in order to investigate. But Allen said the office has a clear duty under the law to investigate and, if a violation has occurred, to either impose a substantial fine or refer the matter to the attorney general for felony prosecution.

Block faces the Green Party’s Rick Lass in the Nov. 4 general election. There is no Republican on the ballot.