Stephen LaRoque’s brother took the stand Tuesday in a federal criminal trial in Greenville, where the former lawmaker is facing a dozen charges accusing him of stealing $300,000 from his federally-funded non-profits.
LaRoque’s brother Walter LaRoque, a real estate agent, served on the board of directors for the two economic development groups founded by Stephen LaRoque, a Kinston Republican who stepped down from his seat at the state legislature after his July indictment.
East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company received $8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a rural lending program that was supposed to offer loans to small businesses in struggling areas. But federal prosecutors believe LaRoque, over the years, used the non-profits bank accounts to buy lavish jewelry presents for his wife and other luxuries by taking 3 percent of the groups’ entire assets, including large stockpiles of cash.
The trial is being held in Greenville, and is expected to last through the week, and possibly into next week.
LaRoque has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his attorney Joe Cheshire has argued that the USDA rules were confusing and contradictory, and that the money LaRoque is accused of stealing are funds owed to LaRoque.
On the stand Tuesday, Walter LaRoque said he approved a 2009 contract for his brother without realizing how much compensation came along with it, according to this article  from the Kinston Free-Press.
Prosecutors and defense counsel asked him numerous times what he knew of the contract in 2009 and what he knew came before it. Walter LaRoque answered all he knew was that Stephen LaRoque told him it was a reauthorization of a contract from 1999.
Walter LaRoque also said he never saw a contract before 2009, and didn’t know the specifics of the 2009 contract until prosecutors showed him an unsigned document, alleged to be the 2009 contract, in 2012.
“I did not know the full contents — that’s right,” Walter LaRoque said.
The Kinston Free-Press has been providing daily coverage on the court case, along with WNCT in Greenville.
For more background on the case, check out N.C. Policy Watch’s story about the trial here  or our August 2011 investigation  into LaRoque’s non-profits, which prompted the federal investigation.
Below is WNCT’s report about yesterday’s court proceedings: