N.C. Rep. Stephen LaRoque apparently had a thing for Fabergé eggs, jeweled collectibles that fetch high prices and are often emblazoned with gold, rubies and diamonds.
The Kinston lawmaker’s weakness for reproductions of the elaborately-decorated eggs that now symbolize the wrongs of pre-Revolution Russia came out this week, when LaRoque was indicted by a federal grand jury and accused of using federal money to support his own lavish lifestyle.
Deep inside the 72-page indictment are mentions of purchases LaRoque made of a dozen Fabergé eggs, spending more than $24,000 on the decorative collector items at shops in a Las Vegas casino and upscale mall in Northern Virginia.
The eggs LaRoque bought are most certainly reproductions – only 57 of the actual Fabergé eggs are thought to exist and aren’t really the type of things that have price tags.
The real Imperial Fabergé eggs were jewel-encrusted gifts that Tsar Alexander III bestowed on his wife for Easter, and came to represent the lavish and extravagance of the pre-Revolution Russian dynasties. Smaller decorated egg-shaped pendants were also made by the revered jewelry house, and worn as necklaces.
The eggs came to represent the opulence and wealth of pre-Revolution Russia, according to this write-up of a PBS documentary “Treasures of the World” that aired in 1999 and featured the eggs.
In the harsh light of historical hindsight, the Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs can be seen as nothing more than the frivolous indulgences of a decadent monarchy. But stripped of revolutionary ideology, they endure simply as fragile mementos of the doomed Russian dynasty, each not only an artistic masterpiece, but a remarkable reflection of the joys and achievements of a family at the crossroads of history.
They’ve had plenty of moments of fame, according pop culture appearances.
A fake Fabergé egg led Agent 007 to uncover an international jewel smuggling operation that was actually cover for a plot to wage a nuclear attack in the 1983 James Bond classic, “Octopussy.”
And in an episode of the Simpsons, jazzman Bleeding Gums Murphy tells Lisa Simpson about a $1,500-a-day Fabergé egg habit that left him broke. (Excuse the bootleg clip.)
In real life, LaRoque appears to have bought the eggs for his wife Susan LaRoque, who was on the board of director for the East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company and signed several of checks for the non-profit that ended up in LaRoque’s personal account, according to the grand jury indictment (click here to read a copy).
Susan LaRoque has not been charged in connection with the alleged scheme.
The indictment alleges LaRoque spent $24,726.50 in all on the eggs, with money that federal prosecutors believe belonged to taxpayers.
LaRoque bought the reproduction pieces t Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace and in a jewelry shop in an upscale mall in Mclean, Va. , according to descriptions found in the grand jury indictment.
- 18-karat yellow gold, brown enamel Fabergé Egg, $5,104.50
- White gold link Blue enamel Fabergé egg, $3,170
- Fabergé large blue enamel and diamond egg that opens with crown inside, $3,798.
- Fabergé large light blue enamel egg, $2,262
- Small red enamel Fabergé with gold criss-cross design, $678
- Large red enamel Fabergé egg with gold frame on the outside and diamonds around center, $2472.
- Fabergé small pale yellow egg pendant with chain, 18 –karat yellow gold, $804
- Fabergé small lime green egg with bezel-set diamond style, $684
- Fabergé open swirl egg with channel set rubies and 4 diamonds, $1,092
- Fabergé tri-colored enamel lariat necklace with three eggs, light peach, dark peach and wine, $2,748
- Fabergé red enamel earring. $630
- Large yellow enamel egg with diamond swirl in center, $1,284
LaRoque could have traveled a few hours from his Kinston home to see the world’s largest public collection outside of Russia, just up I-95 in Richmond, Va.
The state-run Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has five authentic Imperial Fabergé eggs and the eggs draw visitors that travel to Richmond just to see the eggs and the 200 other Fabergé pieces on display at the museum, said Barry Schifman, the Virginia museum curator for the Fabergé Russian decorative arts collection.
“They’re magnificent tour de forces and works of art,” Schifman said about the Imperial eggs. “Each opens up and have a surprise inside, they’ all tell fascinating stories.”
Just last month, Schifman got a call a month ago from a curator for Queen Elizabeth II, who has three Imperial eggs in her Royal Collection. The curator was interested in seeing the Virginia collection.
“People come here all the time to see the Fabergé,” Schifman said. “It’s that well-known, and internationally known.”
If you want to see them, you’ll have to hurry.
The Fabergé eggs are only on exhibit until Aug. 1, when their gallery undergoes a renovation and the eggs head away from Richmond as part of a traveling exhibit. Their first stop is in Detroit.
They won’t be back on display to Richmond for at least a year. But the museum’s gift shop does have some reproduction eggs for sale.
As for the Kinston lawmaker with a penchant for the elaborate eggs, he’ll be next seen on Aug. 6 when he makes his first appearance on the criminal charges in the federal courthouse in Raleigh.