Ex-PRC member ordered to prison for evaluation 

Former state utility regulator Jerome Block Jr. was sent to a state prison diagnostic center Friday, and a judge sternly warned him that he potentially faces many years behind bars if he doesn't deal with a drug addiction.

District Judge Michael Vigil postponed Block's sentencing on felony charges until after a 60-day evaluation at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas. Block resigned last year from the Public Regulation Commission under a plea agreement with the attorney general's office. He pleaded guilty to felonies for misuse of taxpayer money and election law violations.

The five-member commission regulates utilities, telecommunications and insurance.

Vigil said he was sending Block, 34, for a wide-ranging evaluation at the prison because he wanted a better understanding of Block's problems, including whether he might have a mental health condition that needed treatment along with the drug addiction

But Vigil also said, "I want you to see the inside of a penitentiary."

"That is not somewhere ... you want to live your life. And if you continue to live your life the way you have lived it up to this point, that's where you are going to spend a lot of time. Because if you don't deal with your addiction, if you continue to use drugs, you're going to continue to commit crimes and you're going to start doing longer stretches of time than you can ever imagine," the judge said.

Block faces up to 4 1/2 years in prison after failing to comply with a requirement of the plea agreement to complete a court-supervised drug treatment program. A prosecutor urged the court to sentence Block to the full time in prison.

Block has said he is addicted to prescription painkillers, but his attorney said after the court hearing that his client also was addicted to cocaine.

Before the judge spoke, Block appealed for another chance in a drug treatment program to allow him to "get my life back."

"With the right chance, with the right support group, guidance, treatment, I feel that I can become a productive member of society," Block said. "I can become the father, the husband, the son, the grandchild, the nephew, the friend that I once was."

Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Block told the judge, "Today I stand before you the cleanest I've been as long as I can remember."

He was released on bond in December from the Santa Fe County jail after failing the court's drug treatment program.

Block pleaded guilty last year to felonies, including fraudulent use of a state-issued credit card and identity theft for about $8,000 in improper gasoline purchases when he served on the PRC. He also pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and embezzlement during his 2008 campaign. He entered a plea of no contest to a charge of embezzlement for never returning a car from a Santa Fe automobile dealership after taking it for a mechanical check before possibly buying it. Police later found and returned the car.

Block, an Espanola Democrat, was elected to a four-year term to represent a district that includes Santa Fe and much of north-central and northeastern New Mexico. Block's father is a former PRC member.

Assistant Attorney General LynneAnne Maxwell told the judge that Block should go to prison because of his many crimes and he made no serious attempt to complete the drug treatment program, which typically lasts a year to 18 months. He was thrown out after three months.

"Mr. Block was an elected official. He was in a position of public trust and he violated that trust," Maxwell said.

Block hugged his wife before being handcuffed and taken out of the courtroom. Someone in a group of family members and friends yelled, "Be strong."

___

Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at http://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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