Representative Stephen LaRoque appears to have some explaining to do—to federal officials, to the Internal Revenue Service and most of all to the people in Greene, Lenoir, and Wayne counties that he represents in the General Assembly.
An NC Policy Watch investigation published this week found that Laroque has been making as much as $195,000 a year running two nonprofits that administer a federal loan program for small businesses.
Not bad for a politician who loves to rail against the evils of big government.
The report also found that Laroque made loans to political allies and friends, including two fellow Republican legislators, and that his wife and brother are members of the boards that are supposed to oversee LaRoque’s management of millions of dollars of federal money.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have admonished LaRoque for making a loan of $2 million, well above the $250,000 limit that the program allows, and are now considering asking him to return $4 million that a federal report said he loaned out improperly.
LaRoque repeatedly refused to answer questions from NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska about any of the investigation’s findings.
He’s not usually so reticent to talk—in person or online. LaRoque made headlines earlier this year for calling NAACP President William Barber a racist and for making derogatory comments about unemployed workers that led to an exchange with an out-of-work Goldsboro woman who Laroque then hired to do yard work at $8 an hour.
The woman left after she couldn’t physically do the work. Laroque threatened to have her investigated.
The Huffington Post picked up the story and LaRoque commented on it more than 80 times in three days. He is also a frequent commenter on local blogs in his area.
Talking does not seem to one of his problems, yet he is silent now.
Maybe LaRoque has a legitimate reason for putting his wife and brother on the boards that set his salary, a move that seems to violate common sense as well as the IRS guidelines for nonprofit administration.
Maybe he can explain why he is paid significantly more than leaders of other economic development nonprofits in North Carolina that also administer the federal loans. And maybe there’s a reason why he gave loans to his personal lawyer, two Republican legislators, and other close associates.
Maybe there’s even a way LaRoque can explain how he can routinely complain about government spending while earning $195,000 a year running a government loan program.
The people LaRoque represents deserve to hear his answers and his explanations. The federal government ought to be interested too, given the problems the officials have documented in how LaRoque has administered the loans, though the federal oversight of the program has been far from adequate. That’s something else that deserves a hard look.
Most of all, the general public across North Carolina needs to hear from LaRoque. He is an elected public official after all and he is handling millions of dollars of our money in a way that is troubling even in the most charitable reading of the findings of the NC Policy Watch report.
Time for some answers.