Speaker Thom Tillis advises indicted LaRoque to resign

Tillis to remove Kinston Republican from committees

cjarvis@newsobserver.comJuly 18, 2012 

Stephen A. LaRoque

MLEWIS

— House Speaker Thom Tillis on Wednesday said he has advised indicted Rep. Stephen LaRoque to resign.

Tillis, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, also on Wednesday said the Kinston Republican will no longer serve in leadership positions on several committees, and referred the federal indictment against him to an ethics panel.

The Associated Press reported Tillis said in an interview Wednesday evening that he had told LaRoque it would be wise for him to step down from the legislature. LaRoque declined to comment to The Associated Press.

Rep. George Cleveland, a veteran Republican from Onslow County, said Wednesday that Tillis should have asked LaRoque to resign months ago when the controversy first arose.

“I also think the proper thing for LaRoque to do is submit his resignation,”’ Cleveland told The News & Observer.

Wednesday’s developments from Tillis’ office came after House Minority Leader Joe Hackney renewed his call for a bipartisan ethics probe of the Kinston Republican. Hackney had first suggested an investigation in September in the wake of media reports questioning LaRoque’s involvement in a federal loan program. He also called for LaRoque to be removed as chairman or vice chairman from four committees.

On Tuesday, a federal grand jury indicted LaRoque on charges of theft and money laundering stemming from his management of more than $7 million in federal funds.

Removing LaRoque from serving as chairman of the committees, including the important Rules Committee, may be largely symbolic since the legislature has adjourned until January and LaRoque, who lost his re-election bid in May, will not be returning. But the governor could call the General Assembly back into session, or legislators could reconvene on their own before the year is out.

Tillis’ office also released his letter to the ethics committee, which notes that Tillis had referred Hackney’s concerns, first raised in September, to the ethics committee in November. The Legislative Ethics Committee, which is composed of an equal number of Republican and Democratic legislators from both chambers, meets in secret. Matters it considers only become public if the committee recommends sanctions against a legislator. There has been no such action.

Tillis’ letter notes that the indictment merely presents allegations against LaRoque and that resolution of those charges will be made in court.

“It is possible, however, that the allegations contained in the attached indictment may also overlap with matters within the purview of the bipartisan Legislative Ethics Committee of the North Carolina General Assembly,” Tillis wrote. “Therefore, I am providing to the LEC a copy of the indictment so that it may proceed to determine, in its sole discretion, how to proceed.”

Tillis added that the referral should not be “construed as a reflection of my opinion regarding the validity of the matters alleged in the indictment.”

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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