GREENVILLE, PITT COUNTY - Former State Rep. Stephen LaRoque has been found guilty of using federal money for personal gains and purchases.
The jury at the Federal Courthouse in Greenville found LaRoque guilty on all 12 federal charges against him, including money laundering, theft, giving false information to the federal government, and filing false tax returns. "He was sad and shocked but he was very gracious," said LaRoque's lawyer, Joe Cheshire, after the ruling was announced.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, LaRoque scammed taxpayers to finance a lavish lifestyle, including $2.1 million in salary payments and $300,000 in interest-free personal loans used to buy luxury items, such as a Zamboni, an ice skating rink, and faberge eggs.
Investigators said LaRoque funneled money from his non-profit group, East Carolina Development Company, into his own pocket. The company was supposed to give loans to small businesses.
"We really truly don't believe that Stephen was trying to take money and do wrong things," said Cheshire.
During testimony, LaRoque said he made mistakes but maintained his innocence. LaRoque told the jury that at no time did he cheat, steal or take any money that didn't belong to him. According to LaRoque, those loans were more like advances on money owed to him by his companies because he didn't take all of his required salaries.
Cheshire said upon leaving, LaRoque planned to "go home and be with his family and get his affairs in order and get ready to have a little bit of a life change."
Because of the guilty verdict, LaRoque must remain in the Eastern District of North Carolina unless his probation officer decides otherwise. LaRoque must also surrender his passport and is not allowed to have firearms.
LaRoque is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 10. He could face up to 96 years in prison.
The Republican represented Lenoir, Greene and Wayne Counties, but resigned from the General Assembly on Aug. 1 after he was indicted.
Cheshire said he believes they will appeal the ruling.