Former NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre found liable for corruption, cost gun rights group more than $5 million: jury

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A Manhattan jury in the civil corruption case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James against the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its former CEO found the organization liable for financial mismanagement.

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The jury determined Wayne LaPierre’s violations of his duties cost the NRA $5,400,000, but he had already repaid roughly $1 million to the organization.

LaPierre was ordered to repay the group $4,351,231.

The New York jury said the NRA’s CEO for three decades misspent millions of dollars of the group’s money on luxury personal purchases.

The decision came at the end of five days of deliberations. 

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Wayne LaPierre

Former NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.  (NRA)

James brought the lawsuit in 2020 and named the NRA, LaPierre, former CFO Wilson “Woody” Philips and general counsel John Frazer as defendants. The attorney general’s office argued the executives used millions in company funds on luxury personal purchases and trips, including hundreds of thousands of dollars on LaPierre’s trips to the Bahamas, according to the AG’s office. 

The NRA, however, has long said the case was politically motivated by an attorney general who campaigned for the office by vowing to investigate and take on the group. James was elected to office in November 2018 and publicly slammed the NRA in the lead-up to her becoming New York’s chief law officer. While on the campaign trail, James called the group “an organ of deadly propaganda” and vowed to investigate whether the NRA could keep its charity status.

NEW YORK AG CASE AGAINST NRA LEADER FACES TRIAL AFTER COURT AGAIN REJECTS GUN GROUP’S CLAIM OF POLITICAL PROBE

“The NRA is an organ of deadly propaganda masquerading as a charity for public good,” James wrote in a campaign press release in July 2018. “Its agenda is set by gun-makers who think arming teachers is a better idea than making it harder for kids to get military grade guns.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks outside New York Supreme Court

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks outside the New York Supreme Court ahead of former President Trump’s civil business fraud trial in New York on Oct. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Brittainy Newman)

Weeks before her election, she described the NRA as “a terrorist organization” in comments to Ebony magazine and “a criminal enterprise” in remarks to local New York media.

In August 2020, she filed a dissolution lawsuit aiming to break up the NRA over alleged corruption. A New York Supreme Court justice ultimately blocked James’ effort to dissolve the organization in a 2022 decision, saying the suit did not meet the requirements of ordering a “corporate death penalty” on the group. The judge did allow the suit against the NRA’s top officials to proceed. James accused officials at the NRA of “years of illegal self-dealing” that provided a “lavish lifestyle.”

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At the trial, which began last month, LaPierre and the three other defendants were accused by Assistant Attorney General Monica Connell of getting caught “with their hands in the cookie jar” and argued the four were trying to deflect and downplay the use of the funds. 

“They’re going to try to get you to think about anything except what happened to those cookies,” she said. “They’re going to blame anyone else but themselves.”

NRA Wayne LaPierre

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaks during the Leadership Forum at the NRA-ILA Meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston May 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

State attorneys argued during the trial that LaPierre spent roughly $11 million in NRA funds on private flights and about $500,000 on a handful of trips to the Bahamas, as well as “appearing to dole out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty.”

NEW YORK AG CASE AGAINST NRA LEADER FACES TRIAL AFTER COURT AGAIN REJECTS GUN GROUP’S CLAIM OF POLITICAL PROBE

LaPierre, who stepped down as NRA CEO and executive vice president last month after serving since 1991, said earlier in the trial he had made governance changes within the organization since 2021 and had paid about $300,000 back to the group. LaPierre’s attorney argued during the trial that the former NRA chief’s use of private flights was necessary for safety reasons due to his prominent national stature amid the acrimonious gun debate. 

“This is a story made up by a person with an agenda that wanted him off the field,” LaPierre’s attorney, Kent Correll, said Thursday in closing arguments. 

NY AG James speaking to crowd.

New York Attorney General Letitia James described the NRA as “a terrorist organization” in comments to Ebony magazine. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

“If this case was so important, why wouldn’t she be here?” he added, referring to James’ absence from the courtroom Thursday. 

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The NRA’s legal team argued during the trial that the organization worked to address any potential corruption when such issues were first raised by internal complaints. 

“When the fraud was discovered, it dug in. It turned over the rocks it was told not to overturn,” attorney Sarah Rogers said. “The NRA left no stone unturned.”

Wayne LaPierre

NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks to guests at the 2023 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum April 13, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“If this was a case about corruption,”she added, “it wasn’t by the NRA.”

In a statement following the verdict, the NRA said the jury confirmed what “they contended all along — that it was victimized by certain former vendors and ‘insiders’.”

NRA President Charles Cotton said that members should be “heartened” by the organization’s “commitment to best practices.”

“We appreciate the service of the jury and the opportunity to present evidence about the positive direction of the NRA today,” Cotton said. “NRA members should be heartened by the NRA’s commitment to best practices, and we will continue to amplify our compliance record in the pivotal next phase of these proceedings. To the extent there were control violations, they were acted upon immediately by the NRA Board beginning in summer 2018.”

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NRA counsel William A. Brewer III maintained that the lawsuit was an “unprecedented weaponization” against the NRA to “supress” the organization.

“The NRA is eager to break the seal on facts surrounding an unprecedented weaponization of power against the NRA and its speech,” Brewer said. “There is little question former and current public officials were conspiring with Everytown and others to financially damage and politically suppress the NRA. Their actions harmed democracy and the rule of law – and letting relevant facts and documents remain secret does, too.”

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