Retired New Mexico Superintendent Approved Felon’s Work

May 30, 2006

New Mexico’s Insurance Division under retiring Superintendent Eric Serna granted a waiver that allowed a Dallas businessman convicted of a felony in a Louisiana insurance fraud case to do insurance business in New Mexico.

The next year, a firm owned by the man’s wife donated $20,000 to a nonprofit health foundation Serna helped found.

A spokesman for Serna, Tom Garrity, said Serna was not involved in the decision to grant a waiver to David Judd Disiere in 2004.

However, Thomas Rushton, then deputy insurance superintendent, said Serna asked him to look into the matter and that it was Serna’s decision although Rushton signed the waiver.

“It was not the kind of decision that I could make on my own,” Rushton said.

The waiver allowed Disiere and Deep South, one of his insurance companies, to do business in New Mexico. Kent Hance, an Austin, Texas, attorney representing Disiere, said Deep South had been working in New Mexico for several years, but a company that expressed interest in doing business with Deep South suggested Disiere get the waiver.

In 2005, Southern Management Services Inc., an oil-production firm owned by Disiere’s wife, Teresa, donated to Con Alma Health Foundation Inc. David Disiere is an officer of Southern Management Services.

Last week, Serna agreed to retire June 14 as part of a settlement with the Public Regulation Commission, which oversees the Insurance Division. Serna is under investigation by the attorney general for his dealings with a bank that does business with the Insurance Division.

Serna, who has been on paid leave since last month, is now on vacation leave until his retirement. He is barred from taking official action or having contact with PRC employees.

Public Regulation Commissioner David King said he was disheartened to learn of the Disiere waiver and the contribution to Con Alma.

“Either way, it doesn’t look very good,” King said.

Hance said the donation and waiver were not connected and that Serna did not ask Disiere to contribute.

Rather, it was Disiere who approached Serna last year at a meeting in Santa Fe about donating to Con Alma, Hance said.

“He (Serna) really didn’t put the squeeze on him or anything,” Hance said.

Garrity said Serna’s recollection of the meeting agreed with Hance’s.

Disiere was convicted in 2000 of failing to report felonies of other defendants in a federal insurance fraud case in Louisiana. He served three years of probation and paid a $100,000 fine.

Con Alma recently returned the donation after learning about the connection between the company, Disiere and the state’s insurance industry, said Robert Desiderio, Con Alma’s executive director.

“We had no idea that he was applying for anything in New Mexico,” Desiderio said.

Con Alma recently refunded another $20,000 donation from 2005 and a smaller contribution this year from James and Lucretia Maxwell of Dallas, who own Santa Fe Auto Insurance Co., Desiderio said. The nonprofit also sent a refund to another contributor with a connection to the insurance industry in the state, but Desiderio could not recall the name of that donor.

Disiere was the owner of Cascade Insurance Company. Federal prosecutors accused former Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown, former Gov. Edwin Edwards and Shreveport businessman Ronald Weems of setting up a sweetheart liquidation deal for the company.

Edwards and Weems were acquitted. Brown was acquitted on most charges but served a six-month prison sentence for making false statements to an FBI agent, a charge he maintains he couldn’t properly defend himself against because he was unable to see the FBI agent’s handwritten notes.

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