Former state House member Stephen LaRoque has entered a guilty plea to a federal count of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, averting a trial that was scheduled to begin next week.
Federal court documents says LaRoque entered the guilty plea in Greenville on Monday before federal judge Malcolm J. Howard.
Eleven other pending counts were dismissed.
Sentencing was set for May 12.
A news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Raleigh said LaRoque has agreed to pay $300,000 in restitution.
LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, had been a key member of the leadership in the House, serving as co-chair of the powerful Rules Committee, until he resigned in mid 2012 after he was charged with federal crimes. He had been defeated in that May’s primary.
He was found guilty after a 2013 trial, but the conviction was thrown out due to jury misconduct.
Court records show a flurry of sealed filings in the past week as the new trial approached.
The charges against LaRoque stemmed from how he operated two nonprofit groups that provided loans of federal money to rural businesses that couldn’t get standard bank loans.
The indictment followed an investigation by N.C. Policy Watch that questioned how he spent the money, including paying himself $150,000 a year salary and making loans to associates. Federal investigators traced the money to lavish personal expenses by LaRoque. He contended the financial transactions were legitimate and the government was misrepresenting them.
The court case focused on LaRoque’s operation of an entity called East Carolina Development Company, which received and managed federal loans.
Court documents say the guilty plea relates to money that helped LaRoque acquire a personal stake in a Greenville ice rink his wife had purchased. LaRoque used ECDC money to acquire the stake, according to court documents.