A federal judge set an October arraignment and potential trial date for Stephen LaRoque, the former N.C. House member indicted in July on charges of stealing from two federally-funded non-profits he ran.
LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, is scheduled to be formally arraigned and go to trial on the charges on Oct. 9, according to an Aug. 16 order by U.S. Senior District Court Judge Malcolm Howard.
Howard, nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, will preside over the trial from the federal courthouse in Greenville. Howard also set a deadline for pre-trial motions for Sept. 14.
The Oct. 9 trial date is a proposed date by Howard, and could change.
LaRoque is accused of improperly taking more than $300,000 from two federally-funded non-profits to buy himself and his family extravagances like a car, jewelry, reproduction Faberge eggs, an ice skating rink and a Zamboni.
LaRoque has steadfastly maintained that he did nothing wrong, and his attorney Joe Cheshire said after a court appearance earlier this month that LaRoque will fight the accusations at trial.
The non-profits were part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program tasked with combating rural poverty by offering business loans to entrepreneurs turned down by commercial banks. LaRoque’s non-profits had received $8 million in federal funds since 1997, with federal prosecutors alleging that he took in nearly $2 million in compensation over that period.
N.C. Policy Watch first chronicled the issues with LaRoque’s non-profits in an August 2011 series, “Public money, personal gains” which found LaRoque, a polarizing figure in the N.C. legislature, received salaries of up to $195,000 from the non-profit economic development groups that approved loans for LaRoque’s close associates, including two other GOP lawmakers and LaRoque’s attorney. For several years, the non-profit’s board of directors consisted of LaRoque’s wife and brother, despite USDA and IRS rules that discourage such arrangements.
The NC Policy Watch investigation also found USDA office in Raleigh failed to keep a close eye on the federal funds, skipped several years of visits and didn’t heed recommendations made in annual audits to not put LaRoque in sole control of the non-profit’s finances. Top officials in the USDA’s Rural Development office were unaware of the six-figure salaries LaRoque was getting from his non-profits until being questioned by N.C. Policy Watch.
A federal grand jury began its own probe into LaRoque’s non-profits in September 2011, and indicted him in July on four counts of stealing from a federally-funded program and four counts of making financial transactions in relation to the stolen money. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years of prison time on each count.
LaRoque had lost his re-election bid to a challenger in the Republican primary and resigned from the state legislature following the indictment on criminal charges.