Federal jurors have convicted former state Deputy Insurance Superintendent Joe Ruiz of trying to coerce insurance companies to donate money to charity in exchange for reducing regulatory fines.
The jury returned 30 guilty verdicts against Ruiz on Monday. Ruiz, who turns 67 next month, will face prison time when he’s sentenced in the next 75 days.
He and his family were shocked when the verdicts were read.
“I felt all along that there was so much reasonable doubt that the jury would come back with a verdict of not guilty,” Ruiz said as he left the courthouse in downtown Albuquerque.
U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt said the conviction means federal prosecutors and investigators as well as state authorities will “follow public corruption where ever it takes us.”
Ruiz was indicted last August on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, deprivation of honest services, extortion, corrupt solicitation and aiding and abetting.
The indictment alleged that most of the time, Ruiz directed that companies make payments to not-for-profit health foundation Con Alma or to the Southwestern Arts Institute, which bought bilingual books for children – mostly written by Ruiz.
Con Alma was founded by Eric Serna, who was Ruiz’s boss and superintendent of the state Insurance Division.
Serna retired in 2006 in an agreement with the state Public Regulation Commission after the agency suspended him over conflict-of-interest issues – including some involving donations to Con Alma.
Ruiz testified during his trial that the contributions were voluntary and that the companies would not necessarily have been fined if they hadn’t paid. He also said Serna had signed off on everything he did.
Ruiz was fired by the PRC after the allegations against him surfaced. He was deputy insurance superintendent from June 2001 through July 2006.
PRC Commission Chairman Jason Marks said Monday the regulatory agency has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to unethical conduct and that’s why it fired Ruiz.
Marks added that regulators have been working with Insurance Superintendent Morris Chavez to restore the public’s trust in the insurance division.