Ex-GOP lawmaker LaRoque enters guilty plea to 1 count of federal charges prior to trial

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GREENVILLE, North Carolina — A former North Carolina lawmaker who was convicted on federal charges involving theft and diverting funds and faced a retrial next month on two counts has pleaded guilty to a single count.

U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker announced Monday that former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque pleaded guilty to the theft of $150,000 from a federally funded rural development program he founded. In addition, LaRoque was ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution to East Carolina Development Co.

LaRoque was convicted of a dozen criminal counts in June 2013, but was granted a new trial on two of the charges after it was learned one juror had visited an Internal Revenue Service website during the trial to research tax laws at issue in the case. LaRoque's retrial was scheduled for February.

Sentencing is scheduled for May. LaRoque faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, followed by up to three years of supervised release.

Prosecutors said LaRoque took $300,000 from East Carolina Development, which served as an intermediary for issuing loans through a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan program, and put the money in another one of his businesses, LaRoque Management Group.

The management group then wrote checks in 2009 and 2010 to help pay for an ice skating rink in Greenville for his wife and a stepdaughter and to purchase a house for a second stepdaughter to rent, according to an indictment. The activities violated U.S. Agriculture Department policies and the bylaws of East Carolina Development, according to an indictment.

LaRoque and his attorney maintained he used money that belonged to him and blamed accounting and bookkeeping errors for issues leading to the federal investigation and subsequent charges.

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