A federal judge set aside a federal jury’s verdicts in two of the dozen guilty verdicts a jury rendered against Stephen LaRoque, a former Kinston lawmaker convicted of stealing from a federally-funded non-profit.
A juror did research on his own about tax law, a violation of court proceedings.
An order for a new trial on two of the counts was issued yesterday by U.S. Senior District Court Judge Malcolm Howard, who had presided in the case. LaRoque had been convicted  by a jury in June of 12 federal charges related to $300,000 he took an economic development group he ran.
The federal investigation stemmed from an N.C. Policy Watch series of articles that questioned LaRoque’s management of the federally-managed non-profit.
Howard’s order holds up LaRoque’s conviction on 10 counts, but allows for a new trial on counts 11 and 12 in the trial, which pertained to filing fraudulent tax returns.
A juror reported the misconduct of another juror by telling the federal prosecutors after the verdict was rendered that one of the male jurors did home Internet research on tax rules for S-corporations, according to Howard’s order. The research was apparently done on the IRS website. (Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly said the research was done on Wikipedia, the crowd-sourced information site, but that occurred in a case cited in the order.)
From Howard’s order:
Turning to the instant matter, the court finds there was juror misconduct in that Juror Number Three conducted research on the internet in contravention of the instructions of the court. He did not print out anything or share the contents of his research with any of the other jurors, although he did inform them of his research. Because the outside research done by the juror related to the filing of taxes, the court finds that it may have been material to Counts Eleven and Twelve.
The case docket had shown an unusual amount of sealed documents and motions after the close of the trial, as N.C. Policy Watch noted in this late June post .
It’s not immediately clear whether this will have any effect on LaRoque’s sentencing on the remaining 10 charges – he is expected to be sentenced in September. He still faces the possibility of serving time in prison.