A federal judge sentenced former New Mexico Deputy Insurance Superintendent Joe Ruiz to 48 months in prison and ordered him to pay $103,000 in restitution and $2,000 in special penalties.
Ruiz, who was accused of trying to coerce insurance companies to donate money to charity in exchange for reducing regulatory fines, was convicted in late January of mail and wire fraud, corrupt solicitation and Hobbs Act violations.
An indictment against Ruiz, 67, alleged that he largely 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 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. The PRC oversees the Insurance Division.
Ruiz testified that contributions were voluntary and that the companies would not necessarily have been fined if they hadn’t paid. He also said Serna signed off on everything he did.
Ruiz, deputy superintendent from June 2001 through July 2006, was fired by the PRC after the allegations against him surfaced.
“Instead of upholding the public’s trust and doing his job, Mr. Ruiz instead shook down insurance companies and diverted the money that should have gone to the taxpayers to places of his own choosing. However you slice it, however you spin it, that is theft,” said U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt.
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