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Morning Roundup: Auto insurers prepare for big push at General Assembly

As the legislative session approaches, interest groups are gearing up for a fight. A divided auto insurance industry will try again next year to change a unique regulatory system in North Carolina, which enjoys some of the lowest rates in the country. Read more here.

More political headlines below:

-- A former top Republican lawmaker faces new federal charges, including tax evasion, in connection with an alleged scheme to launder money from a government loan program to enrich himself and close associates.

--Advocates for injured workers say the state needs a safety net to catch vulnerable workers. They want state leaders to create a fund to pay for lost wages and medical bills quickly so these workers aren’t left destitute while their employers try to pay the claim.

Former GOP lawmaker faces new charges in alleged money-laundering scheme

Federal prosecutors indicted a powerful former Republican state lawmaker on four new counts, charging him with filing false tax returns and trying to hide an alleged scheme to launder federal loan money to enrich himself and close associates.

The new charges – which raise the total number to 12 – accuse former Rules Committee Chairman Stephen LaRoque of submitting false 2009 and 2010 tax returns, concealing actions to divert money for personal use and making false statements to the federal government.

LaRoque resigns from General Assembly

Rep. Stephen LaRoque has resigned from the General Assembly, facing federal criminal charges and a public investigation by a special House committee.

Here's a quick take.

And  here's LaRoque's resignation letter:

July 25,2012
Speaker Thorn Tillis
North Carolina House of Representatives
Mr. Speaker,
I am submitting today my resignation from the North Carolina House of Representatives
effective August 1, 2012. This is a difficult decision as it has been one of the greatest
honors of my life to have had the privilege of representing the people of the 10th
District, and I am very proud of what we have accomplished together. I do not want my
continued presence in the General Assembly to be politicized or to distract from the
important work that still needs to be done there. I also have made it clear that I am
proud of the work I have done in my non-profit corporations. We have worked hard to
help people. I deny the charges brought against me, and I now must devote my time
and energies to proving my innocence and protecting my family and all that I have
worked for and believe in.
Stephen A. LaRoque
North Carolina House
District 10

Ethics committee will probe LaRoque

The Legislative Ethics Committee will investigate Rep. Stephen LaRoque, a Kinston Republican who was indicted by a federal grand jury last week on charges that he used a federal lending program to enrich himself.

Also, House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg Republican, will appoint a House investigatory committee to do the same.

Candidates talk 'culture of corruption'

The response by House Speaker Thom Tillis to the indictment of a fellow Republican lawmaker drew praise Friday from GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory,  Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer reports.

But his opponent, Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, said the indictment of Rep. Stephen LaRoque makes it harder for McCrory to criticize a Democratic “culture of corruption.”

“It’s harder for (McCrory) to say that with a straight face given what’s going on,” Dalton told reporters. “There are examples in both parties … that neither side should continue.”

The question came up after both candidates spoke to the North Carolina Trucking Association in Ballantyne.

Dalton was asked by a reporter about GOP efforts to brandish a “culture of corruption” label against Democrats in light of recent incidents involving legislative staffers and LaRoque.

Laroque, of Kinston, was indicted on federal charges of theft and money laundering involving his management of more than $7 million in federal funds.

Tillis, a Cornelius Republican, has urged him to resign.

“I’m very pleased with Thom Tillis,” McCrory said. “That’s the type of leadership I will demand as governor.”

Dalton said Friday told the trucking group that he opposes making portions of I-95 a toll road but later said he would leave the option open for the proposed Garden Parkway in Gaston County and Monroe Bypass in Union County.

McCrory said he would do a “total evaluation” of all road projects, including those, if elected.

Asked about the two controversial Charlotte-area road projects, Dalton said he would leave decisions about them to highway engineers.

Funding questions have dogged the proposed Gaston project. This week the federal government withdrew its “Record of Decision” in favor of the Monroe bypass.

Tillis advises LaRoque to resign

House Speaker Thom Tillis’ office disclosed this afternoon that the Mecklenburg Republican sent a letter to the Legislative Ethics Committee on Wednesday morning providing it with a copy of the federal indictment against Rep. Stephen LaRoque that was handed up on Tuesday.

Word of the letter followed an announcement by House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, and Orange County Democrat, renewing his call for an ethics investigation of LaRoque, which he first requested in November after news media reports raised questions about the Kinston Republican’s business operations.

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