Under the Dome

LaRoque: Entitled to federal money he managed, so not stolen

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque’s defense to the federal indictment charging him with theft, money laundering and tax offenses hinges on a simple theory:

LaRoque was legally entitled to the federal funds he received as the middle-man in a rural re-lending program, and so he could not have stolen the money.

LaRoque’s attorneys make that claim in a motion filed earlier this week. The former Republican representative from Kinston is scheduled to go on trial in U.S. District Court in Greenville on May 20.

His attorneys want U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard to throw out what they contend is superfluous wording in the 77-page indictment, saying the first 70 pages of introduction are irrelevant.

Federal prosecutors, in an earlier filing, say the lengthy, detailed indictment “carefully and methodically unravels [Mr. LaRoque’s] scheme.” But defense attorneys Joseph B. Cheshire V and Elliot S. Abrams of Raleigh contend the government’s theory of the case doesn’t constitute a crime.

Even if it was a crime, they argue, the jury shouldn’t have to hear about the 27 years of LaRoque’s life and 16 years that he was in the re-lending business that are outlined in the federal charges. The defense lawyers say even if a jury could be persuaded that LaRoque compensated himself excessively, that would be a civil matter.

LaRoque, who was co-chairman of the House Rules Committee, resigned from the General Assembly last year after he was indicted on charges that he illegally used money from a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan program for his own benefit, paying himself nearly $2 million and buying lavish gifts for his girlfriend.

Update: The defense has also moved to dismiss the charges based on what it contends is the government's failure to state an offense. While that motion is often made during the trial, the defense asks the judge to grant it in this case "because of the immense expense incurred by this defendant and the taxpayers of the United States to this point. ..."

The defense also takes a swipe at the government's investigation, saying it began after N.C. Policy Watch -- underlining that it is a "Democratic-leaning" online outlet -- published stories questioning LaRoque's re-lending enterprise. LaRoque is described as an "outspoken Republican," and the motion says federal investigators "delved into every aspect of LaRoque's life" before obtaining an indictment.

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