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Steven LaRoque, the former Kinston state lawmaker facing federal charges of stealing from two federally-funded non-profits he ran, will find out this week if a judge agrees the dozen criminal charges in the case should be thrown out.

LaRoque-PC

Steven LaRoque, at a 2011 press conference.

A pre-trial motions hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. tomorrow at the federal courthouse in Greenville, will be a sealed hearing and closed to the public, according to an order filed by Senior U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard.

LaRoque’s trial – his second, after the first ended in a mistrial because of juror misconduct — is scheduled to begin on Feb. 2.

The Kinston Republican is accused of taking $300,000 for his personal use from an economic development group he ran that was funded through a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural business lending program. LaRoque is also facing accusations that, instead of funding struggling businesses to spur economic growth, he used federal money to offer loans to personal associates and political allies, and then took money to fund his campaign and buy jewelry, replica Faberge eggs and a Greenville ice skating rink.

The federal investigation began shortly after N.C. Policy Watch published a 2011 investigation into LaRoque’s management of the federally-funded non-profits.

LaRoque, a former member of House Republican leadership team, has maintained he is innocent of criminal wrongdoing, and that the money in question was owed to him.

Howard wrote in his Jan. 6 order (scroll down or click here to read) that he is sealing the hearing and closing it to the public in order to hear confidential information that may come up in response to a motion LaRoque filed seeking information about the grand jury that indicted him.

Grand jury proceedings are, by design, secret and details about the inner workings of the groups are very rarely released to the public.

“This hearing will be sealed due to the potential for disclosure of grand jury documents or other materials,” Howard wrote.

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Commentary

Veteran Raleigh journalist Seth Effron included the following fascinating chart in his daily “Quick Clips” this morning about the comparative success of Governors McCrory and Perdue in the field of job recruitment.

Commerce chart

 

In addition to in your email box, you can read Effron’s daily clips at Blue NC.

Commentary
United Van Lines

Image: www.unitedvanlines.com

Politicians love to take credit for good things that happen while they are in office — whether they bear any real responsibility or not. As reported in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, of all people, is even taking credit for the state’s falling unemployment rate and high rating in Site Selection magazine. As noted in the same space last month, however, the truth of such matters is a lot less clear cut:

“Except in times of profound crisis when extraordinary powers may occasionally be conferred, it is extremely rare that a political leader can do much more than make gradual tweaks and adjustments that will bear fruit (or not, as the case may be) somewhere down the road.

Meanwhile, the trends so busily tracked and catalogued by analysts each month – jobs, unemployment, incomes, retail sales, corporate profits and the like – are just as likely to be the byproduct of decades-long patterns (e.g. the exportation of jobs overseas and the evolution of the Internet) or recent unforeseen events (e.g. bad weather, a failed crop or a new invention) as they are of comparatively recent public policies like a new tax cut or a business incentive.”

New confirmation of this complex reality comes in the latest household moving numbers from United Van Lines. According to the just released annual study, North Carolina ranked Number 3 nationally of “top destination states.” Read More

News

Stephen LaRoque, the former state representative from Kinston facing charges of stealing from a federally-funded non-profit, warned that he would seek revenge shortly after his 2012 indictment, according to recently filed court documents.

LaRoque

LaRoque

LaRoque, a Republican from Kinston, is facing a dozen charges related to $300,000 that federal prosecutors contend he took from an economic development group funded through a rural lending project in the U.S. Department of Agriculture in order to buy things like replica Faberge eggs, cars and a Greenville ice skating rink.

The federal probe into LaRoque began after a 2011 N.C. Policy Watch report about LaRoque’s non-profit, that found he received generous salaries from the federally-funded non-profit from a board of directors that for several years consisted of LaRoque, his wife and brother.

He has denied any wrongdoing, and has previously said the $300,000 in question was owed to him.

George Vital, a USDA program official that oversaw parts of the rural lending program spoke with LaRoque shortly after the July 2012 indictment. LaRoque, according to Vital, wanted to have top officials at North Carolina Rural Development office fired and thought he could do that if his preferred 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was elected.

LaRoque’s threats were detailed in a motion filed by federal prosecutors Friday, and included in a summary federal agents wrote up about a July 2012 interview with Vital.

Vital had been upset that he was bypassed for a promotion at USDA, and called LaRoque the day after the indictment to talk about Bruce Pleasant, who oversaw the rural lending program in the state, and Randall Gore, the appointed head of the USDA’s Rural Development office for North Carolina.

From court documents:

VITAL explained that he told LAROQUE about his [Mr. Vital’s] administrative complaint against GORE [the presidentially appointed North Carolina RD Director] and PLEASANT. VITAL was upset that he [rather than Pleasant] did not get promoted into the position being occupied by PLEASANT.

LAROQUE complained about PLEASANT and wanted to know how to get PLEASANT and GORE fired from their respective jobs. LAROQUE asked VITAL to pull any records on bad loans that PLEASANT may have been involved with. VITAL said LAROQUE was talking about becoming the RD State Director if Newt Gingrich was to win the nomination and get elected as president. LAROQUE was working to get Gingrich elected and this would help LAROQUE get the people at RD fired. LAROQUE would make heads roll at RD if things worked out for him and the election.

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News

North Carolina’s privatized economic development group already has a new leader, less than two months after the group officially launched in October.

Christopher Chung,  38, an experienced economic developer from Missouri, will begin Jan. 12 leading North Carolina’s job recruitment efforts.

Christopher Chung

Christopher Chung

He will replace Richard “Dick” Lindenmuth, 62, a business executive hired last January to help shift North Carolina’s job recruitment efforts from the state Commerce Department to the new privatized set-up.

Chung, who has led Missouri’s version of the privatized economic development efforts since 2007, was announced Monday through a press release from the economic development group, and came as a bit of a surprise.

An Ohio native, Chung holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and Japanese from Ohio State University and oversaw $80 million in financial incentives when leading Missouri’s public-private partnership.

UPDATE: Details were released Monday evening about Chung’s compensation. He will make an annual salary of $225,000, and can earn additional bonuses of up to 25 percent of his salary if he meets benchmarks that the economic development partnership board will make in January. Public money will be used for $120,000 of his salary, in line with the legislation that created the partnership. Chung’s moving expenses will also be covered, and he’ll be given a car once he arrives in North Carolina.

The new 17-member board for North Carolina’s economic development partnership held its first meeting on Nov. 15 at its Cary headquarters and made no mention about the potential hire during the open session of the public meeting.

Lindenmuth, who made $120,000 a year as the CEO of the partnership, will continue working with the group on a contract basis working on projects that will include expansion of high-speed internet services to rural parts of the state, data analysis and recruitment of veterans to the state, according to Monday’s press release from the economic development partnership.

Richard Lindenmuth

Richard Lindenmuth

With most of his career spent managing or consulting for troubled companies, Lindenmuth came to the job with no economic development or public sector experience. An N.C Policy Watch investigation published earlier this year found that he’d been scrutinized by a federal bankruptcy judge for padding his expenses to a company in bankruptcy proceedings.

N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker applauded Chung’s hire.

“The Partnership is off to a strong start and is working closely with us to bring in new jobs,” Decker said, according to a news release from the partnership. “They have enjoyed strong leadership from day one, and now have in place a CEO and Board of Directors that will help ensure an excellent first year of economic growth in 2015.”

N.C. Policy Watch requested, but was not immediately provided, information about Chung’s salary , as well as details about Lindenmuth’s proposed contract work and his pay. (See update above for details about Chung’s salary)

North Carolina, through legislation passed this summer, shifted its tourism, marketing and business recruitment divisions in October to a the newly-created Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. A central piece of Gov. Pat McCrory’s jobs plan, the public-private partnership is funded with $16 million in public funds and less than $500,000 in private donations. The quasi-public method of economic development has had mixed results in other states. Supporters say moving economic development efforts outside of state government allows for more effective recruitment of new employers while detractors point out that other states have seen conflicts of interest and a pay-to-play culture emerge.