RALEIGH – When the 72 page, eight count indictment was handed down against State Rep. Stephen Laroque, political observers say many North Carolinians probably marked it down as just another in a long line political problem in for the state.
“I think people are just tired of the story lines whether it is sexual exploits, or financial impropriety, or any kind of number of other problems. They want to see that people are there to do the business of the citizens and not to get involved in scandal,” said political analyst David McLennan.
In the case of LaRoque, he is being accused of misusing federal funding he was managing for two nonprofits. NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska first brought these issues to light in an in-depth investigation last summer.
“I was a bit surprised by the extent of what the grand jury discovered and it will be interesting to see as we go through this legal process what shakes out,” said Ovaska.
Ovaska said she started digging into these issues when looking into LaRoque's stances on unemployment insurances and says questions soon came up about his finances with the non-profits.
“That $167,000 salary that LaRoque reported getting one year was actually well over $300,000 in compensation that he was taking from this non-profit. And those are questions that I think taxpayers have a right to see where their money goes and what happens to it and my investigation was just part of it,” said Ovaska
State Republicans are not quick to open up on the issue.
“Representative LaRoque lost in his reelection effort. He is innocent until proven guilty. Not a party issue,” said NC GOP Chair Robin Hayes.
Observers say innocent or guilty, this helps to perpetuate the negative image many voters have about politicians.
“It feeds into the public perception of politicians being less than honest, or criminal, and it is bad for all North Carolinians,” said McLennan.
Speaker of the House Thom Tillis' office said they have referred the indictment information to the legislative ethic's committee and he has taken steps to ensure that LaRoque will no longer hold any leadership positions in the State House.
A judge has issued a summons for LaRoque to appear in court on August 6.