LaRoque asked to consider resigning

Published 8:15 pm Wednesday, July 18, 2012

RALEIGH — The North Carolina House turned up the pressure Wednesday on a Republican member indicted this week on federal charges as the chamber’s top leader said he thought it would be wise for his colleague to resign his seat.
House Speaker Thom Tillis said he advised Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Kinston to consider stepping down from the House, where LaRoque had served for almost six years since 2003. LaRoque already was on his way out the chamber — he lost in the May primary and won’t return when the next two-year session begins in January.
“He and I have had some discussion and I have suggested that it is really in his best interest,” Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, told The Associated Press in an interview, adding: “I think it would be a wise decision.”
Reached late Wednesday, LaRoque said he had no comment about Tillis’ advice.
Tillis said that if LaRoque were to remain a House member he would lose his committee chairmanships, including the co-chairmanship on the powerful House Rules Committee, should lawmakers reconvene again before the end of the year. There could be a special session or a meeting to consider any override of a veto by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue.
Tillis also referred formally Wednesday to the Legislature Ethics Committee the eight-count indictment issued Tuesday against LaRoque. The 72-page indictment accused LaRoque of taking $300,000 loaned to his company through a federal program and giving it to another company he owned to pay for transactions that helped family members.
Tillis told the committee leaders it was up to the bipartisan panel to determine whether to examine allegations that may fall under the General Assembly’s purview. It would ultimately take a vote of the full House to remove a legislator from office.
“It’s not because I have made any judgment about his guilt or innocence,” Tillis said in the interview. “It’s purely a matter of the public perception and protecting the institution” of the House that has led him to take these actions, he added.
Prosecutors say LaRoque took the money from his East Carolina Development Co. — which served an intermediary for issuing loans through a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan program — and allegedly 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 the indictment.
The 72-page indictment also attempts to paint a picture of LaRoque benefiting personally from federal funds that his nonprofit company was supposed to distribute as loans to people and businesses in rural areas. The company’s leadership consisted primarily of LaRoque, his wife and his brother, and LaRoque received annual compensation that once exceeded $317,000, the indictment said.
LaRoque’s attorney said Tuesday that his client believes a full airing of the case will show that he didn’t violate any federal laws.
Tillis’ announcement came a few hours after House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, asked the speaker to strip LaRoque of his leadership positions and to create a bipartisan House commission to examine the allegations against him. Hackney made a similar request last September, after a liberal-leaning advocacy group raised questions about East Carolina Development Corp. and a similar LaRoque company.
“It is past time for the members of this chamber to consider whether he is qualified to continue representing the people of his district,” Hackney wrote Wednesday.
A summons issued Tuesday by a federal court clerk directs LaRoque to appear Aug. 6 at the Raleigh federal courthouse to answer the charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office recommended a $50,000 unsecured bond for LaRoque.