Ex-NRA chief Wayne LaPierre found liable for financial misconduct – Fri, 23 Feb 2024 PST

Gun Rights

NEW YORK – In a sweeping rebuke of the National Rifle Association, the nation’s most prominent gun rights group, a Manhattan jury ruled Friday that its leaders had engaged in a yearslong pattern of financial misconduct and corruption.

The jury, after a week of deliberations, found that the group’s former leader, Wayne LaPierre, had used NRA funds to pay for personal expenses, including vacations, luxury flights for his relatives and rides on superyachts. Jurors found that he misspent $5.4 million. LaPierre has repaid some of that sum, but must still repay $4.35 million.

In addition to LaPierre, the defendants included the group’s former treasurer, Wilson Phillips, and its general counsel, John Frazer. The jury found that both had failed in their duties to the organization. Phillips must repay $2 million.

The NRA itself was also a defendant, and was found to have ignored whistleblower complaints and submitted false filings to the state. “Today, LaPierre and the NRA are finally being held accountable for this rampant corruption and self-dealing,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the lawsuit that led to the verdict, said in a social media post.

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LaPierre ran the organization for more than three decades. He announced just before the trial began that he would be stepping down. He was present in the courtroom as the verdict was announced.

Neither he nor any of the defendants’ lawyers had immediate comment after the verdict. LaPierre left the courthouse flanked by six court officers and a private security detail, walking quickly to his vehicle as reporters shouted questions and cameras flashed.

The trial, in the courtroom of Justice Joel M. Cohen of state Supreme Court, stemmed from a lawsuit brought in 2020 by James. The NRA, which was chartered as a nonprofit group in New York in 1871, has been plagued by financial trouble and internal conflict in recent years.

Prosecutors presented evidence at trial that LaPierre had misspent millions of dollars on an array of inappropriate expenses, some of which bordered on the bizarre, such as the use of helicopters to avoid traffic during trips to NASCAR races. Other expense reports showed LaPierre seeking reimbursement for mosquito treatment and landscaping at his house.

During the trial, the NRA lawyers had sought to distance the organization from LaPierre, arguing that while he had done good things for Second Amendment rights, his identity – and his admitted extravagances, including Beverly Hills shopping sprees – was not synonymous with the group’s.

“The NRA is not Wayne LaPierre,” a lawyer for the group, Sarah B. Rogers, said in opening statements in January.

LaPierre testified that he had paid back hundreds of thousands of dollars to the organization, with interest – restitution that James deemed inadequate.

Anti-gun groups hailed the verdict.

“We’re two months into 2024 and the NRA has already managed to lose this trial, their longtime leader and whatever political relevance it had left,” said Nick Suplina, the senior vice president for law and policy at one such group, Everytown for Gun Safety. “This verdict confirms what we’ve seen in recent elections, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress: The gun lobby has never been weaker.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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