Insurance industry lobbyists were on former New mexico Insurance Superintendent Eric Serna’s call list, and one said he felt pressured by Serna to push his clients for donations, according to testimony in two civil lawsuits.
Both Gary Kilpatric and Daniel Najjar of Santa Fe are attorneys who lobby the Legislature and represent major insurance companies in dealing with the Insurance Division. Both said in depositions that there was “no quid pro quo” and nothing illegal about the calls they got from Serna, according to a copyright story in Sunday’s Albuquerque Journal.
But Kilpatric said in a 2003 e-mail to a client that “Serna has called me again to apply pressure,” referring to a contribution to an annual dinner for Con Alma, a health foundation Serna founded.
Serna, meanwhile, testified that he tried to keep his charitable solicitations separate from his job overseeing nearly every aspect of the state’s insurance industry.
Serna resigned in April as Con Alma’s president after questions over a possible conflict of interest between his dual roles on the foundation’s board and as insurance superintendent.
Serna later resigned as insurance superintendent in an agreement with the state Public Regulation Commission, which asked the attorney general’s office to investigate a contract between the Insurance Division and a Santa Fe bank that made hefty contributions to Con Alma.
Former state Sen. Victor Marshall of Albuquerque has filed three lawsuits claiming property title insurance rates set by Serna are inflated and cost consumers between $20 million and $25 million a year in unjustified premiums.
In another lawsuit, former state Rep. bobby Mayfield of Las Cruces claims Serna failed to act on consumer complaints against an Espanola insurance agent who was pocketing auto and homeowner insurance payments.
Both lawsuits allege contributions to Serna’s favorite charities, as well as personal and political relationships cost consumers in general and as individuals.
Kilpatric and Najjar were deposed in the lawsuit filed by Mayfield.
Kilpatric recounted numerous instances of Serna calling him to help raise money for various causes, including Con Alma, Gov. Bill Richardson’s campaign and for a Hispano Round Table legislative appreciation dinner.
Najjar testified that Serna shared “informational notices” of political fundraisers with him but said he would not characterize them as solicitations.
He also testified that Serna asked him if any of his clients had a foundation that would be interested in donating to a college Serna’s son was attending.
But Najjar said Serna never asked him to contribute to Con Alma.
SErna has denied any wrongdoing, although he has said he might have made poor judgments or been too zealous in his advocacy on behalf of Con Alma.
On advice of counsel, SErna invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on fundraising and other topics including, the use of a Con Alma credit card, dealings with a Santa Fe bank that won a lucrative contract and then made significant donations to Con Alma and whether donations from the title industry to Con Alma amounted to bribes.
Information from: Albuquerque Journal, www.abqjournal.com
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