‘Personal piggy bank’: ex-NRA chief accused as civil corruption trial begins

Gun Rights
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‘Personal piggy bank’: ex-NRA chief accused as civil corruption trial begins

Trial under way in New York despite Wayne LaPierre announcing on Friday that he is stepping down as lobby group’s chief executive

A civil trial that will lift the lid on decades of alleged financial mismanagement and corruption by senior officials of the National Rifle Association (NRA) got under way in New York on Monday, with opening statements expected later in the day.

The case against the gun rights group’s former chief executive Wayne LaPierre and other executives is progressing despite LaPierre’s resignation on Friday, and a pre-trial settlement by another of the four defendants, former chief of staff Joshua Powell.

Letitia James, attorney general of New York, alleges that LaPierre squandered millions of dollars by engaging in the “brazen illegality” of using NRA coffers as a “personal piggy bank” to enrich himself and pay for luxury travel including private flights for family members.

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At the same time, he and other leaders oversaw a toxic working environment at the organization’s Virginia headquarters, stifling dissent, hiding spending that was not approved through the proper channels, and awarding excessive pay rises for loyalists to cover up the alleged pilfering or look the other way, the 168-page lawsuit said.

“Joshua Powell’s admission of wrongdoing and Wayne LaPierre’s resignation confirm what we have alleged for years: the NRA and its senior leaders are financially corrupt,” James said in a statement.

“These are important victories in our case, and we look forward to ensuring the NRA and the defendants face justice for their actions.”

LaPierre, 74, was in court as jury selection continued on Monday morning for a trial expected to last up to six weeks. James is seeking the removal of the NRA’s general counsel and secretary John Frazer, and financial penalties against LaPierre, Frazer and Wilson Phillips, its former treasurer. All have denied liability.

The NRA, which is registered in New York, has seen a significant drop in membership and revenue in recent years as mass shootings rose across the US and legal action was taken against it.

It reported a $36m deficit in 2018, fueled mostly by misspending, and cut back on training, education, recreational shooting and law enforcement programs.

It filed for bankruptcy in 2021, seeking to incorporate in Texas where it was founded as a non-profit charity in 1871. But a judge rejected the move as a transparent attempt to duck James’s lawsuit.

The membership decline continued, and as the decades of power of the NRA faded, even more extreme gun rights groups stepped in to fill the vacuum, with one rightwing group, Gun Owners of America, attracting 2 million members and spending $3.3m lobbying against gun control.

The state court judge Joel Cohen blocked James’s request for the NRA to be wound up in March 2022, finding that she had not proven the non-profit was harmed by the alleged financial mismanagement, or was unable to serve its members to the degree it deserved a “corporate death penalty”.

But other efforts by the NRA to block the lawsuit were unsuccessful, resulting in the trial’s opening on Monday.

“While the end of the Wayne LaPierre era is an important victory in our case, our push for accountability continues,” James said in her statement last week.

“It will not insulate him or the NRA from accountability. All charities in New York state must adhere to the rule of law, and my office will not tolerate gross mismanagement or top executives funneling millions into their own pockets.”

LaPierre is expected to testify in his own defense. Other witnesses are expected to include Oliver North, who was forced out as NRA president amid a bitter leadership struggle in 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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