A New Mexico insurance deputy has been placed on leave amid allegations he solicited charitable donations from a company that faced fines from regulators.
Dan Mayfield, chief of staff for the state Public Regulation Commission, said Deputy Insurance Superintendent Joe Ruiz is on leave with pay, but he declined to comment further.
Ruiz told the Albuquerque Journal in a copyright story published Wednesday that until the allegations surfaced, he was a top candidate to replace former Insurance Superintendent Eric Serna.
Ruiz’s name was mentioned in a lawsuit alleging Serna offered favorable treatment in insurance matters in exchange for contributions to Con Alma, a nonprofit health foundation Serna founded.
Serna stepped down as Con Alma’s board president in April and retired as insurance superintendent at the end of May in a deal with the PRC.
Ruiz said he hasn’t done anything improper and believes he will return to work after his side of the story is heard.
“I think what they’re doing is wrong,” he said. “Never in my life have I been the recipient of any disciplinary action in my 50-some-odd years of working.”
Ruiz said he sometimes fielded inquiries from insurance-company representatives about Serna and Serna’s work at Con Alma.
Even if a contribution had been made, Ruiz said he wouldn’t necessarily know about it, and “there was no guarantee the superintendent would turn his head. I think we have a case of selective memories here.”
According to court documents, Ruiz allegedly told William Madison, an insurance company lawyer representing Ohio Casualty, that Serna “sometimes looked the other way” on fines when companies agreed to make contributions to favored charities.
Court documents also allege Ruiz told Madison “an additional $5,000″ from Ohio Casualty for his favorite charity, Southwestern Arts Institute, would be “looked upon favorably.”
Ruiz said the institute could have come up in conversations in the context of someone asking about his hobbies. He said he liked to write bilingual children’s books. If someone asked how the books would get into schools, he said he would have responded, “either they’re purchased, or some nice corporate citizens have made contributions to buy some books and put them in schools … but never did I say it would be nice if you did the same, or did I look on it favorably.”
At the time of Ruiz’s meeting with Madison, the Insurance Division was contending the company owed $400,000 in fines for using adjusters who were not licensed in New Mexico. Madison refused to make a contribution but agreed to pay a $25,000 fine, documents state.
Ruiz doesn’t recall meeting with Madison, but said if a meeting occurred, he never would have insinuated the company would get favorable treatment by donating to a particular charity. “That’s hogwash,” he said.
Madison has declined to comment about the statements attributed to him in court documents.