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

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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.

News

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.

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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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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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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque will wait until February for a jury trial on charges of stealing $300,000 from two federally-funded economic development groups he ran.

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Former N.C. Rep. LaRoque

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, was scheduled for an October trial in a federal criminal courtroom in Greenville. The trial was pushed back to Feb. 2 because of delays in getting transcripts from a previous trial, according to an order filed in federal court this week.

A jury had convicted LaRoque in June 2013 of a dozen charges related to the theft, but U.S. Senior District Court Judge Malcolm Howard set aside those verdicts and ordered a new trial after finding out a juror in the case did home Internet research, a violation of court rules.

LaRoque, a former co-chair of the powerful House Rules committee and a self-declared “right hand man” for N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, has maintained he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, and said he was owed the money federal prosecutors contend he stole.

He resigned from the state legislature in 2012, after an indictment of federal charges accusing him of taking $300,000 from two federally-funded nonprofits he ran and using the money to buy cars, a Greenville skating rink, expensive jewelry and replica Faberge eggs for his wife.

The federal investigation began after N.C. Policy Watch published a 2011 investigation into LaRoque’s non-profit work, which found that he was paid generous salaries as high as $195,000 a year to run organizations that for years only had one or no other employees. The boards of his non-profit were also stacked with immediate family members and he signed off on giving low-interest loans of federally-sourced money to close business and political associates.

Uncategorized

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque  has apparently fired Joe Cheshire, the Raleigh attorney that represented him during a trial last year that ended in convictions for the former lawmaker.

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican who stepped down from the legislature after his federal indictment, was convicted in June of stealing funds from two federally-funded economic development groups he ran. He asked for a new trial after a juror admitted doing outside research during verdict deliberations. Read More