News

Stephen LaRoque, the former state representative accused of stealing $300,000 from federally-funded non-profits he ran, entered into a plea deal Monday.

LaRoque-PC

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque in 2011.

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, plead guilty to one count of theft of $150,000 from a program receiving federal funds. The remaining 11 counts he faced will be dismissed, according to the court docket.

LaRoque also agreed to pay back $300,000 in restitution to the non-profit he once led, the East Carolina Development Corporation, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The plea was offered Monday at the federal courthouse in Greenville. No prior announcement of the hearing was made on the docket for LaRoque’s case.

LaRoque, a co-chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, resigned from the legislature in July of 2012, shortly after he was indicted on the federal charges.

His sentencing will be on May 12, at the federal courthouse in Greenville before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard.

The charge LaRoque plead guilty to holds a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison. He could also be ordered to pay a fine of up to $250,000, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

LaRoque had been scheduled to go to trial next week, after convictions a jury handed down in a 2013 trial were set aside because of juror misconduct.

The federal investigation into LaRoque began shortly after a 2011 N.C. Policy Watch investigation that found improprieties in his management of two economic development non-profits that received millions through a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural lending program. The non-profit’s board of directors, which approved generous pay packages for LaRoque, consisted of himself, his wife and brother for several years.

His indictment on federal charges accused him of taking more than $300,000 from the non-profit to buy, amongst other things, a Greenville ice skating rink, replica Faberge eggs, jewelry and cars for his personal use.

Up until Monday, LaRoque had maintained he was innocent of criminal wrongdoing, and that the money he was accused of stealing was owed to him.

Shortly after his indictment, he said he wanted to seek revenge and “make heads roll” at USDA if he managed to get a political appointment heading the state office of the agency he was accused of stealing from.

This post has been changed from the original to correct the maximum fine LaRoque could face, up to $250,000. The post may be updated as further information about Monday’s plea deal is made available.

Commentary
Mandy Locke

Mandy Locke

Looking to learn about an issue — any issue — on which the North Carolina General Assembly might actually pursue a moderately progressive course in 2015? If so, you should definitely plan on attending this Wednesday’s Crucial Conversation luncheon with Raleigh News & Observer reporter Mandy Locke: “Fraud in the workplace: How numerous North Carolina employers are cheating their competitors and stealing from employees and taxpayers (and what should be done about it).”

Locke will discuss the ongoing multimillion dollar crime spree in North Carolina in which “wage theft” and “worker misclassification” by dishonest employers are both robbing workers (and state tax coffers) of millions and millions of dollars. Please join us as we explore this huge and poorly understood problem and how state lawmakers and regulators might properly address it.

Locke will be joined by Raleigh businessman Doug Burton, President and Owner of Whitman Masonry and one of the numerous North Carolina employers who treats his workers fairly, plays by the rules and is regularly disadvantaged as a result of the state’s lax law enforcement in this area and Bill Rowe, General Counsel and Director of Advocacy at the North Carolina Justice Center, who will discuss possible legislative and law enforcement solutions.

When: Wednesday, January 28th, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

Rev. T. Anthony Spearman of Greensboro, North Carolina explains why public schools are so important and why voucher programs shortchange students and communities. Spearman explains the arguments advanced by voucher advocates are wrong and harmful, especially to low-income families.

Click below to watch the first in a new series of videos produced by the NC Justice Center:

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Commentary

Tom Ross_1162015If you haven’t done so already, check out Charlotte Observer contributor Alice Carmichael Richey’s essay decrying the UNC Board of Governor’s inexplicable firing of system president, Tom Ross (pictured at left).

As Richey argues persuasively, the Board’s actions simply ought not to be allowed to stand in their present form — i.e. unexplained.

“The board acknowledged its decision had nothing to do with Ross’s ‘performance or ability to continue in the office’ and was made despite the board’s belief that he ‘has been a wonderful president’ with a ‘fantastic work ethic’ and ‘perfect integrity’ who ‘worked well with [the] Board.’”

After quoting the board chair, she goes on:

“All of this begs at least two questions: Why did the board make this decision and, no less important in light of public reaction, will the board reconsider? Read More

News

The former principal of embattled Charlotte public charter school Entrepreneur High says he plans to file a complaint Friday afternoon to seek reinstatement as head of the school and the ability to reopen its doors early next week.

“Yes, I plan to reopen the school,” Dr. Hans Plotseneder told N.C. Policy Watch Friday. “My termination [as principal] was not following the legal procedure…it was wrongful and I need to be reinstated. My lawyer is on the way to court now.”

Dr. Plotseneder says the chairman of the nonprofit board for Entrepreneur High School, Mr. Robert L. Hillman, did not follow proper procedure when he added new members to the board on January 18. On that day, says Plotseneder, Hillman then had enough votes to formally terminate him as principal (he was fired before Christmas) and get the green light to close the school’s doors.

Mr. Hillman could not be reached for comment Friday.

Entrepreneur High School abruptly shut down a week ago. The school only had $14 in its bank account and enrollment was far below the statutory minimum of 65 students. New Hanover Schools superintendent Tim Markley, who served as a reviewer of Plotseneder’s multiple applications to the state to open EHS, told N.C. Policy Watch he voted against its opening twice, saying “the financials weren’t there.” Read More