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LaRoque found guilty on all counts

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque has been convicted on 12 counts of federal charges related to accusations that he enriched himself with U.S. Department of Agriculture money that he was supposed to loan to struggling rural business owners.

The verdict came Friday morning in a federal courtroom in Greenville. Sentencing is set for Sept. 10.

The trial began in mid May and involved testimony about complex financial transactions that the government contended amounted to theft and money laundering.

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

Prosecutors contended LaRoque’s defense tried to portray the alleged crimes as “mere ethical lapses” that didn’t constitute crimes. But the prosecutors argued the case was about the theft of $300,000 in federal funds, and LaRoque’s attempts to conceal the theft and avoid taxes through “sham loans.”

The federal jury began their deliberations on Wednesday and came back with their verdict shortly before noon.

-- Anne Blythe

On the stand, LaRoque says he was Tillis' 'right hand man,' denies stealing

Update: The case has gone to a jury in the federal courthouse in New Bern. Jurors will return on Thursday to deliberate.

Former Republican state Rep. Stephen LaRoque took the stand in his defense Tuesday to admit he made mistakes but did not steal from the charities that received federal grant money. Sarah Ovaska, whose investigation prompted LaRoque's indictment, filed this dispatch for N.C. Policy Watch:

"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. ... LaRoque was questioned by both his own defense attorney Joe Cheshire and federal prosecutors Dennis Duffy. Under questioning from Cheshire, LaRoque said he bought his wife expensive jewelry and replica Faberge eggs because, “I love spoiling my wife.” Prosecutors contend he wrote himself large checks from the non-profit in order to pay for that jewelry. ...

"On the July day he was indicted, LaRoque called up the former head of the USDA rural lending program he participated in and said that he (LaRoque) could become the North Carolina head of the USDA office if Mitt Romney won the 2012 election.

LaRoque trial postponed again

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque's trial on federal fraud charges has been postponed from Feb. 12 to May 14. The postponement -- the second time the trial has been delayed -- is because new charges were filed against the Kinston Republican last month.

Federal Judge Malcolm Howard granted the request from the prosecution and defense, citing the complex nature of the case.

LaRoque, who resigned from the General Assembly after he was indicted in July, faces 10 counts, including fraud and tax offense allegations.

He is accused of enriching himself with business-stimulus money from a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan program, through non-profit entities he set up to make the loans.

LaRoque trial postponed to next year

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque’s trial on federal charges, which had been tentatively scheduled for October, won’t happen before next year.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm J. Howard granted a joint request by prosecutors and defense attorneys for a delay because the case is so complex.

Fall trial tentatively set for LaRoque

A federal judge has laid out a schedule of deadlines leading up to a tentative fall trial in the federal theft and money-laundering indictment of former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Malcolm J. Howard, in an order he signed last week, cautioned attorneys  on both sides that failing to meet his deadlines could result in the tardy motions being denied. Such motions might include defense requests that prosecutors share evidence or that some evidence be suppressed, the judge noted in his order.

Howard will preside over the trial, which he proposes would start Oct. 9 at the federal courthouse in Greenville. Responses to motions would have to be filed by the end of September.

N.C. Policy Watch, which first broke the story of LaRoque’s questionable management of federal loans, reported the scheduling order earlier Tuesday.

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, was indicted in July. Federal prosecutors say he enriched himself through nonprofit and for-profit entities acting as middle-men to loan struggling businesses in rural areas funds through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program.

LaRoque has denied any wrongdoing. He resigned from the General Assembly as a result of the indictment.

USDA loan programs that LaRoque used criticized in report

An internal review by the federal agency that provided former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque with the money that led to his indictment criticizes the North Carolina operation on several fronts.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development division, in a report delivered to the Raleigh office in April and obtained by The News & Observer this week, faults the state office for inadequate oversight and for loan delinquencies. The state has reported $34.6 million in lost federally guaranteed loans and poor internal control over one loan program "has raised concerns in the national office," the report says.

But the report, which gives passing marks to some of the agency's practices, raises issues that for years have dogged some of the loan programs and are not limited to North Carolina.

The review is posted below.

NC FY 2011 BCPAR.pdf

How LaRoque's finances ended up with a federal grand jury

Federal investigators say state Rep. Stephen LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, paid himself more than $2 million over the past 15 years through a complex scheme using federal loans meant to help rural businesses. How the feds found out about it is a story in itself.

White House outreach to Jewish farmers in Raleigh?

The Obama administration has been engaged in some outreach into Raleigh-Cary Jewish community – although they had a sort of an odd way of going about it.

A top U.S. Department of Agriculture official held a “Jewish Roundtable” on Monday at Beth Meyer Synagogue. The event was sponsored by the White House, the USDA, and the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary.

Surely, this was not being held to discuss the problems of Jewish farmers in the Raleigh-Cary area.

The event featured Jonathan Adelstein, USDA Rural Utilities Service Administrator, and was described as one in a series of events administration officials were holding across the country to hear about community concerns.

This was not, the invitation stressed, a campaign event.

The Obama B Team

They're not the Obama Administration headliners, but a bunch of deputy federal agency administrators were in the state today talking up the Obama jobs plan. 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deputy Bob Perciaspece and U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy Kathleen Merrigan were in Brevard this afternoon to release a report economic development in small towns and rural communities.

The director of the Office of Special Education Programs for the U.S. Department of Education was at Sedalia Elementary School today talking about the jobs plan and education.

They follow trips to the state by Obama and his secretaries of homeland security, treasury and education in the last four weeks and further highlight the state's importance in next year's election.

North Carolinian works on national farm recommendations

Archie Hart, Knightdale resident and administrator in the state Department Agriculture, has a hand in setting federal agriculture policy, too.

As vice chairman of the federal Minority Farmer Advisory Committee that's reporting to U.S. Secretary Tom Vilsack, Hart is helping shape recommendations on ways the department can promote participation of minority farmers and ranchers in federal agriculture programs.

Hart is back this week from a three-day committee meeting in Tennessee where he and other members heard from the public about how to make the USDA more accessible.

Black, Native American, Hispanic and female farmers have all brought discrimination lawsuits against U.S. Department of Agriculture at one time or another.

"Basically, all people are asking to be treated fairly," he said. "They want to reduce paperwork."

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan applauded the committee's goals.

"Agriculture is a $78 billion industry in North Carolina, and it is imperative that this critical sector of our economy be open and accessible to all of our residents,” she said in a statement.


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