Raleigh, N.C. — Days before he begins serving a two-year prison sentence for misdirecting federal funds, former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque said Sunday that he was the target of a “witch hunt” by adversaries who sought to criminalize him.
“This whole prosecution has been a witch hunt carried on by my political opponents,” the Republican wrote in a five-page statement. “As a political activist and also as a member of the NC House of Representatives, I had a reputation of being outspoken and an advocate for those who felt like they didn't have a voice.”
LaRoque emailed the statement directly to news organizations Sunday without going through an attorney because he said he no longer employs the firm that oversaw his case. In the email, he said he must report to federal prison in Butner by noon Tuesday.
LaRoque pleaded guilty in January to a charge of aiding and abetting theft concerning programs receiving federal funds. Prosecutors said he took $150,000 from a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded nonprofit created to provide loans to small rural businesses.
According to a 2012 indictment, he funneled the money through his management company and used it for such things as investing in an ice skating rink in Greenville and buying rental property in Kinston. He resigned his House seat that year under pressure from the indictment.
A federal jury convicted him in 2013 of four counts each of misuse of funds, money laundering and fraud, but a judge later threw out the verdicts after it was learned that a juror conducted outside research in the case.
LaRoque maintained his innocence throughout, arguing that the loans from the USDA to the nonprofits he directed were more like advances on money owed to him by the nonprofits and that the boards of the two organizations approved his actions. He also challenged the authority of the grand jury that indicted him.
Weeks before his retrial was set to begin in Greenville, however, he pleaded guilty in January as part of a deal to get the rest of the case against him dismissed.
In his statement Sunday, LaRoque reiterated that he was owed $150,000 in deferred salary, loaned himself the money and paid it back when he received an inheritance distribution from his mother, who had passed away.
“Unfortunately, in the meantime, I became engaged in a legal battle with a political rival, and the rival used my operation of (the nonprofit) to smear me,” he said. “I cooperated fully with the investigation, believing that, since I only took money owed to me, that I had committed no crime.”
LaRoque also said that while the first case ended, he believes he “may have been acquitted if it were not for jury misconduct.”
He said in accepting a plea offer, he agreed that taking a loan “technically violated” the bylaws of the nonprofit.
“I received substantial decreases in the sentence guideline range due to many government concessions, and the judge ultimately sentenced me to the lowest sentence in that already reduced guideline range reflecting, I submit, that after hearing the first trial, the judge did not believe that my conduct was particularly bad or harmful,” LaRoque said.
In his missive, LaRoque also touted his political efforts, including a push for nonpartisan elections in Kinston in 2008 that resulted in court battle with the U.S. Department of Justice. He also said he was targeted by the North Carolina NAACP, the prosecutor in the case and an IRS agent involved in the investigation.