Tillis watching LaRoque controversy (with audio)

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis is independently looking at allegations of mismanagement and cronyism at two federally-funded non-profits that state Rep. Stephen LaRoque runs.

“What I’m trying to do is get my facts straight beginning with confirmation of your information, talking with the federal agencies that are involved, and we’ll continue that process,” Tillis said in comments he made Thursday to N.C. Policy Watch.

It’s the first time Tillis, has addressed about the recent controversy surrounding LaRoque, a conservative Republican from Kinston who serves as the co-chair of the powerful House Rules Committee.  A News & Observer editorial from last week called on Tillis to probe the allegations.

LaRoque, serving his third term, was the subject of a recent N.C. Policy Watch investigation that found LaRoque was earning up to $195,000 a year running two economic development non-profits funded with federal USDA money. LaRoque’s board of directors had members of LaRoque’s immediate family serving on it, and loans were made to close associates, including two other GOP legislators.

Tillis was in Kinston Thursday – he told the crowd it was the first time he’d ever stopped there after passing through many times — for one of the scheduled town hall meetings he’s been holding this month around the state. He briefly spoke with NC Policy Watch after fielding questions from the approximately 50 Kinston residents who gathered at a well-known barbecue restaurant to hear from the legislative leader.

LaRoque sat to the side of Tillis during the town hall meeting, with LaRoque looking more uncomfortable than he did earlier this week when he held a press conference to counter the N.C. Policy Watch investigation.  LaRoque has consistently maintained that he has done nothing wrong.

Tillis said he’s not going to rush to any judgment, but is reviewing the information that’s been reported by NC Policy Watch before making any decisions about LaRoque’s role in the state legislature.

When asked about the possibly of a House ethics investigation, Tillis said it was unclear to him whether the allegations would fall under the purview of an ethics investigation.

“That’s a question I’ve asked everyone to look at,” Tillis said. “We’re going through this process as we would with anybody else.”

(UPDATE: To hear Tillis’ unedited comments, click here: Tillis’ reaction)

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