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LaRoque to take stand next week in criminal fraud trial

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque will testify next week to defend himself in his federal criminal trial.

He is accused of stealing from the federally-funded economic development non-profits he ran.

Joe Cheshire, the Raleigh criminal defense attorney representing LaRoque, said he plans on calling LaRoque, his wife Susan LaRoque and former state Sen. Debbie Clary when federal prosecutors finish presenting their case in the jury trial behind held at the federal courthouse in Greenville.

Clary had served on the board of Piedmont Development Company and stepped down from the board to take out a business loan for her marketing company.

LaRoque

LaRoque

Federal prosecutor Dennis Duffy is continuing to call witnesses today.

LaRoque, 49, a former member of N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis’ leadership team, is facing a dozen charges in the complicated criminal trial where he stands accused of taking $300,000 from an economic development non-profit funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural lending program.

Federal prosecutors, in their lengthy 77-page indictment, accuse LaRoque of using East Carolina Development Company’s money to fund his own lifestyle, including buying cars, jewelry, replica Faberge eggs, a Greenville ice-skating rink and a Zamboni ice resurfacer for the rink.

LaRoque has plead not guilty to the charges, and Cheshire has argued that LaRoque was entitled to the monies in question as part of his compensation. Cheshire has also taken aim at the USDA’s Intermediary Relending Program, saying it had confusing, and conflicting, rules about how the federally-sourced money should be used.

The federal investigation stemmed from an August 2011 N.C. Policy Watch investigation, “Public money, personal gains” that found LaRoque reported receiving generous salaries, as high as $195,000 a year, from the small USDA-funded non-profit that lent money to close associates, including two state lawmakers and his personal attorney. The boards of the non-profits were whittled down over years to just include LaRoque’s — Stephen, his wife and brother, Walter LaRoque.

In the courtroom earlier this week, Walter LaRoque said he didn’t know how much compensation his brother was receiving from the non-profits at the time.

Note: I also wanted to offer this little bit of background for readers about how the initial N.C. Policy Watch investigation came to be.

On Thursday, LaRoque’s former attorney Bert Diener testified to jurors that he believed that documents used in the N.C. Policy Watch investigation had been leaked by attorneys representing LaRoque’s Democratic opponent in a defamation article.

That wasn’t the case.

The initial Policy Watch investigation was conducted using publicly available records, mainly from a public records request I filed with USDA but also from public records kept at the Lenoir County Register of Deeds. (You can click here to read more about how the investigation was done.)

After the investigation was published in August 2011, attorneys for Van Braxton, the Democratic opponent LaRoque sued for defamation, made records they obtained through the lawsuit available to N.C. Policy Watch after the defamation lawsuit was settled. Those records were mentioned in this January 2012 article, and the source of the records was fully disclosed to readers.

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