07/26/12 — LaRoque will resign

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LaRoque will resign

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 26, 2012 1:46 PM

Rep. Stephen LaRoque

State Rep. Stephen LaRoque, of Kinston will resign his General Assembly seat on Wednesday -- two weeks from the date that a federal grand jury returned an eight-count indictment alleging he stole from programs receiving federal funds and engaged in monetary transactions involving property obtained from "certain specified unlawful activity."

LaRoque, a Republican, in a letter to House Speaker Thom Tillis, denied the allegations while pledging to devote his time to proving his innocence.

A legislative ethics committee, at Tillis' request, reviewed the indictment before sending it back to the House. Tillis said he planned to form a bipartisan committee of House members to study the indictment.

LaRoque's resignation makes that a moot point.

Local Republican Party officials expressed surprise at LaRoque's decision, which means district GOP leaders will have to decide whether or not to recommend someone to serve out his term.

LaRoque already was on his way out, having lost the GOP nomination to John Bell IV of Goldsboro in the May primary. District 10 includes portions of Greene, Lenoir and Wayne counties.

First elected in November 2002, LaRoque served as the District 10 representative until 2006 when he lost his re-election bid. He was re-elected in 2010.

LaRoque has been charged with illegally using federal money intended for low-interest economic development loans through his nonprofit East Carolina Development Company to buy expensive jewelry, including Faberge eggs and a Kinston ice rink for his wife, as well as a house that he rented to a stepdaughter.

The maximum penalty for each count is up to 10 years imprisonment.

It also alleges that he failed to report his income to the IRS including a $150,000 loan he said was deferred compensation.

LaRoque's resignation letter reads:

"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."

Wayne County GOP Chairman Bob Jackson expressed surprise when contacted late Wednesday evening about LaRoque's decision. Jackson said he had been working and had not heard about the resignation until contacted for comment.

"Well, how about that," Jackson said. "I have known Stephen for some years now and he is similar to me -- when he makes up his mind it is hard to change it.

"I had figured he might hang in there a little longer until the pressure got to where he couldn't stand it anymore. This is a little early of what I had thought that it would be."

State law sets the procedure for replacing a legislator. The governor has the power to appoint a replacement recommended by the district's state House committee of the political party the outgoing legislator was affiliated with when elected. The governor has seven days to approve the party's recommendation. According to the law, if the governor fails to make the appointment within the seven days it "shall be presumed" it has been made.

Jackson said he favors appointing someone to fill the unexpired term, but that he could not speak for other county chairmen.

"All I can give you on that is my personal opinion," he said. "If the General Assembly is not called back into session, then it is not a big deal either way. But if they are, then we are left without representation for this district. I would hate to see that.

"Without giving it much thought, I would think this (district) meeting should be held and that we go ahead and see if we can come up with a recommended replacement just in case. If there is no reconvening then it's a moot point because it will just be filled for that period of time and that is it anyway. But if there is a reconvening then we would at least have representation."

Jackson said he did not think it would be a good idea to come up with a recommendation and then wait to see if the General Assembly would reconvene before proceeding with the appointment.