Santa Fe, New Mexico – SANTA FE, N.M. (KRWG) Former Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. vowed Wednesday to complete a court-ordered drug treatment program as part of a felony plea agreement that forced him to resign from office.
If the 34-year-old from Espanola fails to complete the program, he potentially faces up to four and a half years in prison. He has said he is addicted to prescription painkillers
"I can say the drug court is a program that I am going to take very seriously. It's important for myself, for my family," Block told reporters after appearing in state district court to finalize the plea agreement.
"I just want to put this behind me and get my life back on track. I will abide by the rules put forth by the drug court and will complete the program," he said.
Block appeared in court to plead guilty to felonies for violating state election and campaign finance laws in 2008 when running for office. The charges were the last ones covered by a plea agreement with the attorney general's office, which also required him to step down from his $90,000-a-year job on the Public Regulation Commission.
The five-member agency regulates utilities, telecommunications and insurance rates.
"Mr. Block now has an opportunity to turn his life around and become a productive citizen," Attorney General Gary King said in a statement. "If he continues down the path he was on before this, he will have no one to blame but himself, and he will face the consequences,"
Block pleaded guilty last month to several other felonies, including the misuse of a state-issued gasoline credit card. Block also must pay restitution to the state, potentially about $8,000, for improper purchases with the credit card. He made numerous transactions on the same day at gasoline stations.
Block's pleas to election law violations were delayed until Wednesday because he previously had appealed a 2009 indictment for misusing public campaign funds. The appeals court had to send the case back to the district judge before Block could plead guilty to some charges.
Gov. Susana Martinez will appoint Block's replacement, who will serve the remainder of his term through next year. Block represented PRC District 3, which includes Santa Fe and much of north-central and northeastern New Mexico. The position on the agency is up for election next year.
Martinez brought up Block's departure during a luncheon with New Mexico utility shareholders in Albuquerque on Wednesday. She is considering a list of five finalists from among nearly 90 people who applied to her office for the PRC job.
Martinez said she will evaluate each candidate personally to select someone who has "the right experience to serve and who will fulfill the duties of this office in a professional and honorable manner."
"We will no longer appoint people simply because they happen to be a friend of a brother of another," she said.
Block's father was a former PRC member.
"This job, this position of PRC commissioner, is so important and currently the qualifications that you be 18, not found guilty of a felony ... frankly is insufficient for such an important commission," said Martinez.
An independent think tank has recommended establishing minimum academic and professional experience to become a candidate for the PRC.
AP writer Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque contributed to this report.
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Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. KRWG