The Registry of Motor Vehicles will consider shutting down two local driving schools and two affiliated high school programs as the owner faces drug trafficking charges.
The uncertain future of the operations has left parents wondering whether classes will continue or if their money will be refunded.
Registry officials are planning a hearing Oct. 5 to determine if the owner, Michael Larocque, will be allowed to continue operating his schools in Haverhill and North Andover, plus driving courses he runs at two local high schools.
Larocque, 56, of Lawrence was arrested Sept. 18 at his home and booked at the State Police barracks in Newbury. He is charged with having 2 pounds of methamphetamine at his Lawrence home, and 400 grams of the drug at North Andover Auto School, which he owns, according to police.
Larocque also owns MV Auto School in Haverhill and has satellite driving programs at North Andover High School and Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover, RMV spokeswoman Judith Reardon Riley said.
“The status of all locations associated with Mr. Larocque will be subject to any hearing or decision,” Riley said in an email.
She said sanctions may include a suspension of the school or instructor’s license, a fine or other “appropriate measure.”
Emails sent to parents by MV Auto School and obtained by The Eagle-Tribune indicate families who paid for classes will be reimbursed through a bond the school is required to have with the RMV. The emails did not say how or when that would happen.
The RMV also sent an email to families, acknowledging Larocque’s arrest and outlining steps students can take before the Oct. 5 hearing.
The email also said the RMV would not be able to address questions about “North Andover Auto School’s status, future classes or any potential payment reimbursement.” However, it said, students who transfer out of Larocque’s schools could be required to pay fees to their new school, even if they already paid Larocque in full.
The cost for a student driver’s course is $725 at MV Auto School and $750 at North Andover Auto School, according to their websites. Students must pay a non-refundable deposit of $350 at registration, the websites say.
State troopers, federal agents and local police served warrants Sept. 18 at Larocque’s home and North Andover Auto School, investigators said.
Police said they seized about 2 pounds of methamphetamine from Larocque’s home on Colonial Road in Lawrence, along with vials of an unknown liquid and drug-related paraphernalia. Methamphetamine also was seized from a vehicle on the property, according to police. In addition, 400 grams of methamphetamine, pills and $12,000 in cash were taken from the school, police said.
Larocque was arraigned on two counts of trafficking methamphetamine over 200 grams, held on $250,000 cash bail, and ordered to surrender his passport and remain drug and alcohol free. According to officials at Middleton Jail, he was still being held late last week. His next court appearance is Oct. 19.
As of Friday afternoon, all of Larocque’s driving school websites indicated no new enrollments were being accepted “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
Massachusetts laws that govern driving school instructors say the state may suspend or revoke a license or refuse to renew a license for various reasons, including the license holder being convicted of a felony. State law also requires driving schools to post a bond to ensure tuition will be refunded if a school closes due to a license suspension or revocation, or for any other reason.
To obtain an initial license as a driving instructor or to renew a license, a person must agree to a criminal and driving check, the RMV website says. Registry records indicate that North Andover Auto School’s license was renewed in March 2020. Larocque’s instructor’s license was renewed in May 2020, according to Riley.
On Thursday, MV Auto School school was open. Several vehicles with MV Auto School signage were parked in front of the business, which is located in a strip mall near Academy Plaza in Bradford.
Students enrolled in Larocque’s schools who had road tests scheduled for Saturday took them, but did so at the RMV’s Haverhill office at Riversedge Plaza instead of at the schools, according to the email sent to parents by the Registry.
North Andover Auto School is contracted with North Andover High School to offer driver’s education to students there, but has not offered in-person classes since February due to the coronavirus crisis, according to Rick Galante, director of community programs for the town’s School Department.
When the course was operating at North Andover High, classroom instruction took place after school, Galante said. Larocque last taught an in-person class there in September 2019 and all subsequent classes were taught by other employees of the driving school, Galante said.
Larocque, like all employees contracted with North Andover High, was subjected to a background check, which was completed in late September 2019, according to Galante.
He said the auto school’s contract with the high school is due to expire and school officials are preparing to put it out to bid in hopes of resuming in-person classes in the winter of 2021.
Greater Lawrence Technical High School officials failed to respond to The Eagle-Tribune’s request about Larocque’s current affiliation with the driver education program there.
If convicted of the drug-related charges against him, Larocque faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years in state prison, according to Lawrence District Court Judge Michael Uhlarik, who presided over Larocque’s arraignment after he was arrested.
Law enforcement officials said the drug investigation involving Larocque began about two months ago and included multiple controlled purchases from both Larocque’s home and the driving school in North Andover.
Staff writer Mike LaBella contributed to this story.