By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Lawmaker Stephen LaRoque, a Republican representing parts of Lenoir, Greene and Wayne counties in House District 10, resigned from the North Carolina General Assembly Wednesday, just over a week after being indicted for misusing federal funds from non-profits that he operates.
“I am genuinely saddened for Rep. LaRoque. This must be very difficult for him and his family. This is no time for a spirit of judgmental condemnation, but we should be earnestly praying for him. We should be praying for justice to be served,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
“We should pray that if Rep. LaRoque is not guilty of the charges against him, he will be cleared. If he is guilty, we should pray that God might do a great work in his heart and temper justice with mercy. ”
The 72-page indictment handed down July 17 accuses the three-term legislator of four counts of converting Department of Agriculture loans to East Carolina Development Company to his own use and four counts of laundering money. The indictment, which details some of his business activities all the way back to 1997, alleges that he used federal funds to buy an interest in a Greenville ice skating rink and a rental house. It claims that LaRoque, his brother and his wife, all members of the organziations’ boards, were often the only ones present at meetings where loans were approved.
Filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of North Carolina, the indictment reveals that LaRoque, 48, was paid nearly $2 million over the past 14 years in addition to more than $100,000 in expenses. He is accused of routing federal loan money through his management company to buy cars, jewelry and other property.
LaRoque has denied the charges, and his attorney, Joe Cheshire, told the media that the low-interest loans to small businesses provided through LaRoque’s work led to “hundreds of jobs for North Carolinians who would otherwise have been unemployed.”
In his resignation letter to House Speaker Thom Tillis, LaRoque said that he 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.”
In fact, LaRoque has been defending his actions for a couple of years. In 2010, he filed a defamation suit when his opponent for the House questioned the non-profit operations. He also responded to articles published by NC Policy Watch, which had probed conflict of interest allegations.
Dr. Creech said that under our system of justice LaRoque is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But unfortunately in recent years North Carolina has a long list of scandals among public servants — a list that is very long for both political and religious leaders. Raleigh News and Observer political reporter, Rob Christiansen, once referred to this as “The Tarnished Tar Heel Decade.”
“When leaders fall it doesn’t just hurt them, but sadly it injures the public’s confidence in the institution of government. All too-often people erroneously make sweeping judgments that all lawmakers are corrupt. That just isn’t true,” Dr. Creech said.
“Still, it’s important the electorate is deeply committed to the highest standards for their public servants. We need to elect people with strong leadership qualities of character. Character is destiny. It affects us on every level of life, political, economic, intellectual, etc.”
Dr. Creech said it is also true that if our public servants are lacking in strong moral fiber, that’s a reflection on all of us.
“It may be a jagged pill to swallow, but in a representative democracy we get exactly the leaders we want,” he said, pointing to the words of the great Noah Webster.
“When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands that you choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God. The preservation of a republican government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty; if the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made not for the public good so much as for selfish local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated and disregarded. If a republican government fails to secure prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.”
LaRoque, who lost his bid for reelection in the May 8 primary, is scheduled to appear in federal court in Raleigh on Aug. 6 before Judge James Gates.
To read the indictment against Rep. LaRoque click here
To read Rep. LaRoque’s resignation letter click here