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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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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque told jurors that he made mistakes running two economic-development non-profits, but did not intentionally steal from the federally-funded charities.

“I made a lot of mistakes,” LaRoque told jurors. “I admit that.”

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican who served as a member of N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis’ leadership team until his 2012 indictment, is facing 12 criminal counts in a federal trial being held at the federal courthouse in Greenville. The federal probe stemmed from an August 2011 N.C. Policy Watch investigation that found LaRoque received generous salaries from the non-profit’s board of directors consisting of his immediate relatives.

Jurors have listened to more than two weeks of evidence about complex and complicated financial transactions and will begin deliberations on LaRoque’s guilt or innocence tomorrow.

He’s accused of using the bank accounts of the Kinston-based non-profits, East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company, to fund a lavish lifestyle including new cars, a Greenville ice-skating rink, a house, jewelry and replica Faberge eggs. LaRoque says he is innocent of any wrongdoing and any money in question was owed to him through contracts approved by his board of directors (who consisted for many years of himself, his wife and brother).

He faces more than 90 years in prison, if the jury were to convict him on all 12 charges.

On the stand Tuesday, LaRoque said he didn’t report all of his generous terms of his salary to auditors, accountants and the IRS but instead kept that money in East Carolina Development Company’s accounts with the assumption that he could withdraw it whenever he wanted.

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Federal prosecutors finished calling witnesses Monday to testify in the trial against Stephen LaRoque, a former Kinston state representative accused of stealing from two economic development charities he ran.

LaRoque could testify as early as tomorrow, as his defense attorneys begin to make their case.

The 49-year-old Republican that was a co-chair of the powerful House Rules Committee could face more than 90 years in prison if convicted of the dozen criminal charges he faces. Federal prosecutors believe LaRoque used the federally-funded East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company to buy cars, a rental home, expensive jewelry, replica Faberge eggs and a Greenville ice skating rink. The non-profits had received more than $8 million in funding from a anti-poverty rural lending program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where LaRoque’s non-profits were supposed to be lending out money to needy businesses in rural areas of the state.

LaRoque has plead not guilty to the charges and will likely testify in his own defense today or tomorrow. His attorneys, Joe Cheshire and Elliot Abrams, have argued that LaRoque was owed the $300,000 that prosecutors contend was stolen, and that the USDA had confusing rules about how to handle the publicly-sourced money. Two public accountants LaRoque used have also testified that they felt the state lawmaker had left money owed from his lucrative contract in the non-profit’s bank accounts.

“Basically, you can’t steal your own money,” Abrams said in court Monday. Read More

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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque will testify next week to defend himself in his federal criminal trial.

He is accused of stealing from the federally-funded economic development non-profits he ran.

Joe Cheshire, the Raleigh criminal defense attorney representing LaRoque, said he plans on calling LaRoque, his wife Susan LaRoque and former state Sen. Debbie Clary when federal prosecutors finish presenting their case in the jury trial behind held at the federal courthouse in Greenville.

Clary had served on the board of Piedmont Development Company and stepped down from the board to take out a business loan for her marketing company.

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Federal prosecutor Dennis Duffy is continuing to call witnesses today.

LaRoque, 49, a former member of N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis’ leadership team, is facing a dozen charges in the complicated criminal trial where he stands accused of taking $300,000 from an economic development non-profit funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural lending program.

Federal prosecutors, in their lengthy 77-page indictment, accuse LaRoque of using East Carolina Development Company’s money to fund his own lifestyle, including buying cars, jewelry, replica Faberge eggs, a Greenville ice-skating rink and a Zamboni ice resurfacer for the rink.

LaRoque has plead not guilty to the charges, and Cheshire has argued that LaRoque was entitled to the monies in question as part of his compensation. Cheshire has also taken aim at the USDA’s Intermediary Relending Program, saying it had confusing, and conflicting, rules about how the federally-sourced money should be used.

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Stephen LaRoque’s personal attorney testified in federal court this morning, telling jurors he warned LaRoque against filing a defamation lawsuit unless LaRoque was sure there was no truth to the allegations of self-dealing.

“He said he had nothing to hide,” Bert Diener said about LaRoque.

On the stand Thursday, Diener said he was unaware at that time of $300,000 worth of checks that LaRoque had written from his federally-funded non-profit to his own business in the months before filing the defamation lawsuit.

Copies of the checks were shown to jurors, during federal prosecutor Dennis Duffy’s questioning of Diener.LaRoque-PC

Those checks are at the heart of the criminal charges facing LaRoque, 49, a Kinston Republican that stepped down from the N.C. House of Representatives following his indictment last July. Federal prosecutors believe LaRoque, in addition to generous annual salaries of up to $195,000 from the small non-profit, stole $300,000 from federally-funded economic development non-profits, East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company. He’s accused of using the bank accounts of the non-profits to support a lavish lifestyle, including buying cars, expensive jewelry and replica jewel-encrusted Faberge eggs for his wife and a Greenville ice-skating rink.

LaRoque, who has pleaded not guilty, faces more than 90 years in prison if convicted of all 12 charges he faces.

The non-profits had received more than the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of a rural lending program that was supposed to combat poverty by offering loans to small businesses that traditional banks had shunned.

LaRoque’s indictment followed an August 2011 N.C. Policy Watch investigation (click here to read) that questioned LaRoque’s high salaries, as well as the non-profit’s board consisting of LaRoque’s immediate family members. The investigation also found that USDA had fallen down in its own lax requirements of supervising the non-profit, skipping several years of site visits to the non-profits.

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