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There has been a flurry of sealed filings over the last two weeks in the criminal case for former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque, a Kinston lawmaker convicted of stealing federal money from economic development groups.

The court documents for LaRoque’s case shows that both assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Duffy and, LaRoque’ defense attorney Joe Cheshire have filed sealed motions and documents, the contents of which are unknown.

LaRoque, a former lawmaker from Kinston, was convicted June 7 on a dozen charges related to $300,000 he took from two economic development groups he ran that were funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide loans to businesses in struggling rural areas. (Click here for more background on the case and trial.) The criminal case stemmed from an N.C. Policy Watch investigation into how LaRoque managed the non-profits.

LaRoque

LaRoque

The first sealed entry in LaRoque’s case came in the form of a “Proposed sealed document” from federal prosecutors on June 12, and then responses followed from LaRoque’s attorneys. In all, there have been more than 20 entries on the case’s docket referring to sealed motions, sealed responses to motions, sealed memorandums and sealed orders from June 12 through Wednesday.

There was also a closed hearing in front of Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard on June 19, the transcript of which is – you guessed it — sealed.

It’s a bit of a departure from how most criminal cases get handled din federal courts.

Courts proceedings, filings and the like are almost always public, and documents are only sealed if lawyers can convince a federal judge that there is sensitive enough information to justify keeping it from the public’s eyes, said Richard Myers, a, University of North Carolina law professor with expertise in the corruptions, white-collar crime and federal criminal law.

Myers said there’s a number of possibilities that the document are being kept under seal, from references to sensitive financial information that could be involved in determining restitution or damages in the case to issues concerning confidential information being used in an ongoing criminal cases where public disclosure could jeopardize an investigation.

“Sometimes it has to do with financial information or if it’s coming from confidential sources that might affect other cases,” Myers said. “It is rare to have multiple filings and a closed hearing.”

LaRoque’s attorneys did publicly file motions last week for a new trial and motions to acquit on the 12 counts the jury convicted him on.

During the trial, jurors heard different accounts from board members and other witnesses about whether or not he had an existing contract that entitled him to three percent of the non-profit’s total assets. LaRoque’s attorney argued he did have a contract, while prosecutors argued he didn’t.

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Jordan lakeYou know something’s amiss in the General Assembly when even the folks who had criticized environmental rules for being too heavy-handed are now taking lawmakers to task for going too far in their response. The subject is Chatham County’s Jordan Lake and the rules that state environmental officials had adopted a few years back in order to save it from the pollution flowing down from Greensboro, Durham and other points north.

Today’s edition of the Greensboro News & Record — the hometown paper of the biggest city impacted by the rules (a city that had complained mightily about them) — editorializes against the state Senate’s plan to eviscerate the rules in a piece entitled “Don’t give up on lake” Read More

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UPDATE: 11:15 a.m. The jury found LaRoque guilty on all 12 counts. (From WNCT reporter Katie Banks, click here for her story).

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque is waiting to see if a dozen jurors believe he’s a thief, or if he’s an innocent man unfairly accused of stealing from a federally-funded economic development group he ran.

LaRoque is accused of stealing a $300,000 from an economic development non-profit funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but testified in the three-week trial that he was owed the money as part of a contract approved by his board of directors — which happened to consist of himself, his wife and brother.

LaRoque, 49, is facing a dozen criminal charges in the three-week trial held in front of Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard at the federal courthouse in Greenville. If he were to be convicted of all 12 charges, and if Howard opted to stack the sentences, he could see a sentence of more than 90 years in prison.

Jurors went out to deliberate Wednesday afternoon, and spent all day Thursday behind closed doors. A foreperson told Howard that they expect to have a decision by the 4 p.m. today.  The Kinston Free-Press had an article today about the court waiting for the jury, including some amusing anecdotes from Howard, a federal judge since 1988,  debating how to feed the jury and whether withholding Snickers bars would hurry them up.

“I’m not going to send any more Snickers bars in there,” Howard told the jury.

The forewoman asked for some consideration when it came to lunch selection, since she said they work through the lunch period.

Howard suggested small sandwiches, like had been catered before, and noted female jurors appeared amenable to the idea while male jurors didn’t look as enthused.

One of the male jurors responded he’d be fine with McDonald’s.

For background on the case, you can read the initial N.C. Policy Watch investigation that prompted the federal investigation (click here), a summary of LaRoque’s July indictment, or posts I’ve written about the trial here, here and here (this post references LaRoque’s own testimony in the case.)

We’ll update this post as soon as we hear about a verdict, or you can follow me on Twitter, @SarahOvaska.

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Stephen LaRoque’s brother took the stand Tuesday in a federal criminal trial in Greenville, where the former lawmaker is facing a dozen charges accusing him of stealing $300,000 from his federally-funded non-profits.

LaRoque’s brother Walter LaRoque, a real estate agent, served on the board of directors for the two economic development groups founded by Stephen LaRoque, a Kinston Republican who stepped down from his seat at the state legislature after his July indictment.

East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company received $8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a rural lending program that was supposed to offer loans to small businesses in struggling areas. But federal prosecutors believe LaRoque, over the years, used the non-profits bank accounts to buy lavish jewelry presents for his wife and other luxuries by taking 3 percent of the groups’ entire assets, including large stockpiles of cash.

The trial is being held in Greenville, and is expected to last through the week, and possibly into next week. Read More

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A federal judge denied former state lawmaker Stephen LaRoque’s requests this week to dismiss charges related to $300,000 that federal prosecutors believe he stole from two federally-funded non-profits.

The orders issued Monday and Wednesday by Senior United States District Court Judge Malcolm J. Howard clear the path for LaRoque’s May 20th trial at the federal courthouse in Greenville, where a jury will decide his guilt or innocence on the allegations.

LaRoque-PCLaRoque, a Kinston Republican who resigned his legislative seat following his 2012 indictment, faces possible prison time, if jurors elect to convict him.

N.C. Policy Watch first raised questions about LaRoque’s excessive compensation from the non-profits in an August 2011 investigation, “Public benefits, personal gains,” and a federal grand jury began its own probe a month later by issuing subpoenas to LaRoque for records. The two non-profits were part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program seeking to combat poverty by creating a mechanism to offer loans to small business owners that traditional banks shunned. Instead, the investigation found LaRoque received generous salaries from a board of directors that consisted of his immediate family members while close associates of LaRoque’s received loans.

Howard’s orders to uphold the charges were filed on Tuesday and Wednesday, and let 10 of the 12 charges LaRoque faces stand. He also ordered that witnesses for both the defense and prosecutions except for the two FBI case agents be sequestered during the trial, meaning they can’t talk be in the courtroom during testimony nor share their own testimony.

Howard has not yet ruled on a final motion from LaRoque to dismiss two additional counts of falsifying tax reports. Read More