Former N.C. state Rep. Stephen LaRoque will go to trial in May at the federal courthouse in Greenville on charges of stealing from two federally-funded economic development charities.
In a court order filed last week, U.S. Senior District Judge Malcolm J. Howard set a May 20 trial date for LaRoque, a former member of House leadership who resigned after his indictment last July on federal charges. Howard will preside over LaRoque’s jury trial.
Federal prosecutors believe LaRoque used public money from two economic development non-profits he ran for his own purposes, including buying replica Faberge eggs and diamond jewelry for his wife and a Greenville ice-skating rink run by family members.
LaRoque faces 12 charges — four counts of stealing from a federally-funded program; four counts of transferring money gotten through criminal means; one count of trying to falsify, conceal and coverup crimes; a count of making fraudulent statements to the USDA and two counts of filing false tax returns.
The former Kinston lawmaker has maintained he did not mismanage the businesses, and plans on pleading not guilty to the allegations, according to motions filed by his attorney Joe Cheshire of Raleigh.
A superseding indictment (click here to read) was also filed Wednesday by federal prosecutors against LaRoque, but no additional charges were included nor does there appear to be any substantive changes to prosecutors’ allegations.
LaRoque was the subject of a 2011 N.C. Policy Watch investigation “Public money, personal gains” that found the state lawmaker received hefty pay, as much as $195,000 a year, and compensation from the two small economic development non-profits that received federal agriculture money intended to help small businesses and fight poverty in struggling rural areas. But the Policy Watch investigation found LaRoque ran afoul of IRS and USDA rules by stacking the boards of the non-profits, East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company, with immediate family members and loaned out money to close associates, including his own attorney and two fellow Republican state legislators. Both state Sen. Debbie Clary and state Rep. Mark Hilton declined to seek reelection, and Clary is now working as a lobbyist in Raleigh.
A federal grand jury begin looking into LaRoque shortly after the N.C. Policy Watch investigation was published, and he was indicted last July.
LaRoque was the powerful chair of the House Rules Committee before his resignation in 2012, after his July indictment. He had also lost a bid for re-election bid when he was defeated in the spring 2012 primaries.