A jury could decide this afternoon if former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque stole $300,000 from federally-funded non-profits he ran or if the money was his to begin with.
Convictions on the more than dozen charges LaRoque faces could mean a maximum 90-year prison sentence.
“This case is about a simple money grap,” said Dennis Duffy, the federal prosecutor in the case, to jurors.
LaRoque’s attorney, Joe Cheshire, disagreed, saying, “”If he did, then all the money he took was his own money.”
LaRoque, 49, a Kinston Republican who stepped down from the House of Representatives following his July 2012 indictment, is accused of dipping into the bank accounts of two U.S. Department of Agriculture economic development groups to fund extravagant purchases like expensive jewelry and a Greenville ice skating rink business.
LaRoque founded both of the economic development groups, East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company, and took in nearly $2 million in compensation since 1997. The groups had taken in received $8 million in USDA loans as part of an anti-poverty program that loaned out money to small businesses in struggling rural areas.
Prosecutors contend that LaRoque saw the non-profits as his own companies, stacked the boards with his immediate family members and illegally used the federally-sourced funds to buy two cars, a house, a Greenville ice skating rink, expensive jewelry and replica Faberge eggs.