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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque was convicted today on a dozen charges related to the theft of funds from a federally-funded rural business lending program he ran for more than a decade in the eastern part of the state.

LaRoque, 49, a Kinston Republican, was convicted by a federal jury of

Stephen LaRoque after a 2012 court appearance.

Stephen LaRoque after a 2012 court appearance.

four counts of stealing from the federal program four counts of laundering the theft through financial transaction, two counts of concealing the theft and two counts of filing false statement on tax forms.

LaRoque showed little emotion upon hearing the guilty verdicts, according to WNCT reporter Katie Banks, who was in the courtroom.

His sentencing will be in September, and he was released on bond until then.  He faces a maximum punishment of more than 90 years in prison, along with significant fines.

LaRoque, a co-chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, had been in the N.C. House of Representatives until his July 2012 indictment, when he resigned.

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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

LaRoque

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.

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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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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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