LaRoque hires one of NC’s top criminal defense attorneys

State Rep. Stephen LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, appears to have hired Joe Cheshire, a Raleigh defense attorney known for his criminal defense work.

Cheshire was out of his office and could not be reached Thursday for comment. It’s not known what the extent of his representation is, but Cheshire sent a letter on behalf of LaRoque to House Speaker Thom Tillis on Wednesday. He states in the letter that his firm has been hired by LaRoque.

In the letter, Cheshire asked Tillis, the House’s GOP leader, to not refer the matter to an ethics commission. He said the media reports on LaRoque’s two non-profits do not warrant enough evidence for an investigation and that Wednesday’s request by House Minority Leader Joe Hackney to open up an investigation was “partisan political bait.”

“The mere existence of media reports ‘appearing’to say something falls far below any standard for convening special investigatory commissions,” Cheshire wrote. “If we as a society begin to appoint ‘independent commissions’ to investigate ‘media’ accounts of politicians, there will be no end to these commission hearings.”

Click here to read the Cheshire’s entire letter.

Tillis asked the bipartisan Legislative Ethics Committee to decide if a probe into LaRoque’s federally-funded non-profits falls under the scope of the committee, Tillis states in a separate letter he sent to Hackney. Tillis also asks Hackney to provide more specific allegations of misconduct.

Click here to read Tillis’ letter to Hackney.

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican serving as a member of Tillis’ leadership team, has faced tough questions in recent months about two economic development non-profits he runs, the East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company. The non-profits, both based out of Kinston, have taken in $8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the agency’s Intermediary Relending Program that aims to combat poverty by loaning money to struggling entrepreneurs in rural areas. Neither non-profit has received money from the state.

An August investigation by N.C. Policy Watch, “Public money, personal gains,” found the federally-funded-charities paid the sole employee Laroque generously, as high as $195,000 a year, without the knowledge of several board members; his board of directors included his wife and brother; and the non-profit gave loans of federal money to close associates of LaRoque – including his wife (his girlfriend at the time); two fellow GOP legislators and his lawyer.

NC Policy Watch also found a for-profit company owned by the lawmaker, LaRoque Management Group, took a $200,000, no interest loan in July 2010 from the non-profit, a potential violation of IRS tax laws that prevent non-profit insiders from personally benefiting from their charities.

LaRoque failed to report the loan on the non-profit’s most recent tax return, despite questions that specifically asked about personal benefits from the charity’s coffers.

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