Former state lawmaker Stephen LaRoque will get another chance to convince an Eastern North Carolina jury he did not steal $300,000 from a federally-funded economic development group he ran.
Federal agents believe he used the money for personal extravagances like replica Faberge decorative eggs and an ice skating rink.
LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, was convicted in June on a dozen theft and money laundering charges fraud related to the accusations, but Greenville television station WNCT reported that Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard ruled in court today that LaRoque could have a new trial.
Howard allowed for a new trial after a juror admitted conducting Internet research on IRS tax rules during the course of last year’s criminal trial, a violation of court rules that require jurors to only consider evidence heard in a courtroom.
No trial date has been set.
LaRoque has maintained he committed no crimes, and told jurors when he testified in last spring’s trial that he did not keep detailed business records and that all the money he was accused of stealing was owed to him.
Howard will also hold another hearing in LaRoque’s case next Tuesday, and will decide whether to approve the former lawmaker’s request to hire Greenville attorney Keith Williams after a “fundamental disagreement” emerged between LaRoque and Raleigh criminal defense attorney Joe Cheshire about how to proceed in the case.
LaRoque is also looking to lift a hold by federal authorities on property he inherited in order to pay legal bills.
From the late 1990s until his 2012 indictment, LaRoque ran both East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company, two groups funded as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that gives business loans to struggling small businesses in impoverished rural areas.
N.C. Policy Watch first raised questions about LaRoque, then the powerful co-chair of the House Rules Committee, in August 2011 with an investigation that found he received generous salaries of up to $195,000 for running the small one-employee organization overseen by a board of directors that, in recent years, consisted only of LaRoque, his wife and his brother. Loans of the federal money were also given to close associates of LaRoque, including two fellow Republican state lawmakers and LaRoque’s attorney at the time
A federal criminal investigation into LaRoque began in September 2011, and he resigned from the legislature in 2012 after he was indicted on charges of embezzling money from the non-profit groups filing fraudulent tax forms.
A lengthy indictment accused LaRoque of using $300,000 from the federally-funded economic development group money to buy personal cars, a Greenville ice skating rink, and thousands worth of expensive jewelry and replica Faberge eggs for his wife.