UPDATE: The Associated Press is reporting that Tillis said he asked LaRoque to resign. Tillis spokesman says he believes that is accurate.
Rep. George Cleveland, a longtime Republican lawmaker from Onslow County, says Tillis should have done it months ago, and that LaRoque should resign.
ANOTHER UPDATE: B.J. Murphy, mayor of Kinston, issued this statement tonight:
"As a constituent of the 10th House district and the Chief Elected Official of the City of Kinston, I echo the statement from the North Carolina Speaker of the House in advising Representative LaRoque to consider stepping down. I believe in due process and innocence until proven guilty, however it appears to be in the best interest of the 10th House district to be removed from the shadow of this indictment."
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 September after news media reports raised questions about the Kinston Republican’s business operations.
Hackney also called on Tillis to strip LaRoque of his leadership positions in several committees, including the important Rules Committee.
Tillis’ letter notes that he had referred Hackney’s concerns to the ethics committee in November. The committee, which is comprised of an equal number of Republican and Democratic legislators from both chambers, meets in secret. Matters it considers only become public if the committee recommends sanctions against a legislator. There has been no such action emerging from the committee.
Tillis' letter refers to the issues raised by the news media in November as originating with "a left-leaning internet blog." In August, the watchdog group Policy Watch N.C. began reporting on LaRoque's questionable enterprises, and later The News & Observer and other publications began reporting on the Policy Watch investigation.
Tillis’ letter notes that the indictment merely presents allegations against LaRoque, and that resolution of those charges will be made in court.
“It is possible, however, that the allegations contained in the attached indictment may also overlap with matters within the purview of the bipartisan Legislative Ethics Committee of the North Carolina General Assembly,” Tillis wrote. “Therefore, I am providing to the LEC a copy of the indictment so that it may proceed to determine, in its sole discretion, how to proceed.”
Tillis adds that the referral should not be “construed as a reflection of my opinion regarding the validity of the matters alleged in the indictment,” but he is doing it “out of an abundance of caution” to “safeguard the trust reposed by the public” in government institutions and elected leaders.
LaRoque was indicted on charges of theft and money laundering involving his management of two nonprofit entities and a for-profit management company that made federal loans to businesses in rural areas. The indictment says he illegally enriched himself, his wife and his attorney, including buying cars, jewelry and an ice rink.
Tillis appointed LaRoque co-chairman of the Rules Committee when the Republicans took over the House in January 2011. LaRoque lost his bid for re-election in May and, although the General Assembly has adjourned for the year, he remains in office through this year. Committees typically meet even when legislators are not in session.
UPDATE: Tillis' office has now reported that the speaker has also removed LaRoque from committee leadership positions.