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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque convicted

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque was convicted on Friday of 12 charges related to accusations that he stole nearly $300,000 from two nonprofit rural development companies that he ran and used the public money for his own purposes.

A federal jury returned its verdict shortly before noon Friday, leaving LaRoque, a Republican from Kinston, with convictions on four counts of stealing money from a federally funded program; four counts of money laundering, or transferring money gotten through criminal means; one count of trying to falsify, conceal and cover up crimes; a count of making fraudulent statements to the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and two counts of filing false tax returns.

LaRoque, who resigned from the General Assembly under pressure last year after the federal indictments, represented Lenoir, Greene and Wayne counties.

His sentencing is set for Sept. 10, and the former state lawmaker will remain free on bond until then.

The verdicts concluded a trial that began in mid-May and included days of testimony about complex financial transactions that the government contended amounted to theft and money laundering.

LaRoque, who was represented by Raleigh attorneys Joseph B. Cheshire V and Elliot Abrams, argued that prosecutors were trying to describe “legitimate transactions” as theft.

They also argued that he was entitled to the federal funds he received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the middle man in a rural re-lending program, and therefore could not have stolen the money.

Thomas Walker, the U.S. attorney for the federal Eastern District that spans from Raleigh to North Carolina’s coast, voiced a different opinion Friday.

“We always thought that this case was about stealing, pure and simple.” Walker said at the close of the trial. “The jury has now agreed.”

Cheshire said after the verdict that the case was “hard-fought” by both sides.

“We had a thoughtful jury, which is clear from the fact that they deliberated for three days, but I would be less than candid if I did not say we are disappointed in the verdict,” Cheshire said. “Stephen handled the decision with grace. We will move on to the next stages of the case and continue to advocate as hard as we can for him.”

The federal charges came about after a 2011 investigation by Sarah Ovaska, an investigative reporter at N.C. Policy Watch, an advocacy organization for left-leaning public policy.

Blythe: 919-836-4948
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