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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque will find out his fate this summer , with his sentencing on a criminal charge of stealing federal funds now pushed back to July.

LaRoque-PC

Stephen LaRoque

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican and former co-chair of the powerful House Rules committee, plead guilty in January in front of Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard to a charge of stealing $150,000 from federally-funded economic development groups he ran.

The other 11 charges he faced were dismissed as a condition of his plea agreement. He also agreed to repay $300,000 that prosecutors contend he stole from the non-profit he founded, East Carolina Development Company.

He was supposed to be sentenced on May 12, but the sentencing has been pushed back to the week of July 7. In motions filed in court, his attorney said LaRoque needed more time to provide financial information to the federal probation officials writing up the pre-sentencing report that Howard will use to decide LaRoque’s sentence.

LaRoque faces up to 10 years in a federal prison, as well as a fine of $250,000, on top of $300,000 he agreed to pay in restitution as a condition of his plea agreement. Read More

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An annual audit of North Carolina’s compliance with federal human services programs uncovered significant issues at the state’s health agency, including overpaying for Medicaid services and skipping a background check for adoptive parents.

The audit released on March 31 found problems with nearly every program they checked at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, from administration of the federal food stamps program to Medicaid billing and neglecting to spend a federal grant to help AIDS and HIV patients.

DHHSA DHHS spokeswoman said the agency has worked under in recent years under Secretary Aldona Wos to improve the management of federal programs, and plans on addressing the issues highlighted in the audit.

“The department has made significant progress improving its operations over the past two years and we continue to value the role that audits can play in further enabling us to do so,” DHHS spokeswoman Alex Lefebvre wrote in an emailed response to questions. “This annual audit will be used by the department to continue on the path of improved effectiveness.”

There were other findings that didn’t point to wasted money, but may have put children’s safety at risk.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services didn’t check to make sure prospective adoptive parents were clear of prior abuse allegations, by checking a registry of abuse and neglect allegations.

“The Department did not monitor that the child abuse registry was checked before a child was placed for adoption,” the federal compliance audit stated. “As a result, children could be placed in an unsafe environment.”

DHHS, in the response contained in the audit, said it thought county-level officials had ensured the abuse and neglect check had been done. Criminal background checks were conducted.

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The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors are moving forward in their search to replace UNC President Tom Ross, and have come up with tentative list of who will coordinate the search for a new president.

UNCsystemThe proposed search committee list was discussed during a four-hour public meeting Thursday in the Charlotte law office where Chairman John Fennebresque works.

The full UNC Board of Governors will vote on the slate of committee members at its meeting this coming Friday, behind held on East Carolina University campus.

The proposed co-chairs of the search committee are Ann Goodnight, the Cary philanthropist and wife of SAS founder Jim Goodnight, and Joan MacNeill, the co-founder of the Great Smoky Mountains Railway tourist attraction from Webster. Therence Pickett, the general counsel for MackTrucks/Volvo Trucks in Greensboro, is slated to become a vice-chair of the search committee that will present final candidates to the full UNC Board of Governors.

The university’s system’s 32-member governing board, all of whom got their appointments from Republican legislative leaders, pushed out UNC President Tom Ross out at their January meeting. Ross, who has headed the state’s public university system since 2011, will stay in his position until 2016.

Fennebresque has denied that pressure from legislative leaders or politics played a role in dismissing Ross, who had been hired by a board that leaned Democratic. Ross, a former judge and Davidson College president, was hired by a board of governors then controlled by Democrats.

Frank Grainger, a member of the UNC Board of Governors from Cary, commented during Thursday’s meeting that approval from the Republican-controlled legislature on the next UNC president is key.

“If they’re not happy with whoever we hire, then we’ve got a problem,” Grainger said.

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John Fennebresque, UNC BOG chair

John Fennebresque, UNC BOG chair

A subcommittee of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors meets in Charlotte tomorrow to talk about the search for a new president of the 17-campus higher education system.

The board’s presidential search nominating committee is holding a public meeting at the McGuire Woods law firm in Charlotte, where UNC Board Chairman John Fennebresque is a vice-chairman at the law and lobbying firm.

Though the meeting is at a private law firm, it is public and open to anyone who wishes to attend. The meeting is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the McGuire Woods law firm, 201 N. Tryon Street in Charlotte.

The only items on the agenda are a review of past presidential searches and discussion by the committee.

UNC President Tom Ross

UNC President Tom Ross

The 32 members of the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom have received appointments from a Republican-led legislature, are looking for a new president after President Tom Ross was unexpectedly pushed out in January. Fennebresque, the board chair, cited a general desire for change while praising Ross for his leadership and denying that politics played a role in Ross’ ouster.

The state’s open meeting laws allow public bodies (like the UNC Board of Governors) to hold their meetings in areas usually off-limits to the public as long as the general public is allowed to attend, said Brandon Huffman, a Raleigh-based attorney with the Stephens, Martin, Vaughn and Tadych law firm, which specializes in First Amendment issues.

“They can have it there,” Huffman said. “They do have to allow the public the same access as they would at any other venue.”

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A group of North Carolina senators wants to keep government information in the hands of Tar Heels, and not those from outside the state.

Senate Bill 553, filed Thursday by Republican state Sen. Warren Daniel, aims to limit access to public records to North Carolina residents. Currently, state law allows for anyone to request records from any state or local government agency, regardless of their residence.

N.C. Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Morganton

Daniel said he filed the bill after local governments in his area received extensive records requests from out-of-state companies asking for vendor lists and other documents.

“They take up staff time and cost local government money,” said Daniel, a Morganton attorney. He added, “Why should local governments be spending time and money satisfying the curiosities of people that don’t live here in the state?”

In a 2013 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case out of Virginia that states could stop non-residents from using public records laws to access information. Other states with in-state restrictions for public records include Alabama, Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Tennessee, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Co-sponsors of the North Carolina bill include state Sen. Andrew Brock, Brent Jackson and Joyce Krawiec, all Republicans.

Brock also filed a government transparency bill, SB 633, on Thursday that would require every state and local government agency to publish on its website contact information for elected officials, procedures for requesting public records, all taxes and fees, salaries of all employees, detailed lists of purchases, contracts over $25,000 and other information.

S553v0 by NC Policy Watch