Yachting and Private Flights Confront NRA’s LaPierre at Trial

Gun Rights

(Bloomberg) — Wayne LaPierre, the longtime leader of the National Rifle Association, was grilled in front of a New York jury on Friday over his use of NRA funds to buy gifts and about yacht trips to the Bahamas.

LaPierre told the jurors that his friend and NRA vendor David McKenzie paid for the yacht outings. His testimony came in the civil trial of New York’s 2020 lawsuit alleging the big gun rights group and its chief executive officer diverted charitable donations for years to enrich its executives in violation of laws governing nonprofits.

LaPierre’s wife and niece often accompanied him on the trips, and he didn’t disclose the travel to the NRA’s board in advance, the 74-year-old CEO told the jury in lower Manhattan under questioning by the state.

“That was really generous of the McKenzies, wasn’t it?” a lawyer for New York asked.

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“Yes,” LaPierre said evenly. “We were friends.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges that misuse of funds donated by gun rights supporters contributed to a reduction in assets by $63 million from 2015 to 2018. She claims the NRA and its leadership failed to disclose conflicts of interest and retaliated against whistleblowers. James has demanded millions of dollars in restitution and penalties and is asking the court to impose an independent monitor to oversee the group’s finances.

The NRA remains influential but has taken withering criticism over the revelations as the case has proceeded. It poses one of the biggest legal threats the organization has faced since its founding in New York in 1871.

Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, helped found and is a current supporter of Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates safety measures.

Big Spender

On Tuesday the conservative stalwart Oliver North, a former president of the NRA and a witness for the state, told the court LaPierre wildly misspent the group’s charitable funds. 

LaPierre, who is stepping down next week from a post he has held for more than three decades, showed little emotion as Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Conley went through more than a dozen invoices detailing expenses LaPierre has billed to the NRA. 

They included private flights to the Bahamas for him and his family, one adding up to $37,000. He authorized another, for almost $27,000, for his niece after her commercial flight was delayed, he admitted.

LaPierre has said a security official at the NRA directed him to use private planes for safety purposes and that the flights he expensed were for business reasons. There was no written policy at the NRA requiring him to be flown by private charter until 2020. 

$800 in Candles

Among the other bills he admitted to authorizing were holiday and birthday gifts for friends, such as a $1,260 handbag and more than $800 of candles from the Bergdorf Goodman department store. There was even a recurring charge of $800 to have his backyard treated for mosquitoes.  

The NRA filed for bankruptcy in 2021. On the witness stand Friday, LaPierre pushed back against the state’s allegation that he urged the filing to avoid regulatory scrutiny in New York. Instead, he testified, he was trying to prevent James from seizing the group’s assets. The NRA unsuccessfully sought bankruptcy court protection in Texas. 

LaPierre told the jury he thought “we’d have a fair regulatory playing field” there.

“We didn’t feel like we could get that in New York, where all we were getting was ill will,” he said.

The case is New York v. National Rifle Association of America, 451625/2020, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan). 

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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