Jury finds LaPierre abused NRA funds

Gun Rights

NEW YORK — The longtime head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, misspent millions of dollars of the organization’s money, using the funds to pay for an extravagant lifestyle that included exotic getaways and trips on private planes and superyachts, a New York jury determined Friday.

The jury ordered LaPierre, 74, to repay almost $4.4 million to the powerful gun rights group that he led for three decades. It also ordered the NRA’s retired finance chief, Wilson Phillips, to pay back the group $2 million. Jurors additionally found that the NRA omitted or misrepresented information in its tax filings and violated New York law by failing to adopt a whistleblower policy.

LaPierre sat stone-faced in the front row of the courtroom as the verdict was read aloud.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat who campaigned on investigating the NRA’s nonprofit status, declared the verdict a “major victory.”

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“In New York, you cannot get away with corruption and greed, no matter how powerful or influential you think you may be,” James said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “Everyone, even the NRA and Wayne LaPierre, must play by the same rules.”

The outcome is the latest blow to the powerful group, which in recent years has been beset by financial troubles and dwindling membership. LaPierre, its longtime face, announced his resignation on the eve of the trial.

NRA general counsel John Frazer was also a defendant in the case. Although the jury found that he violated his duties, it didn’t order him to repay any money.

The jury found the NRA violated state laws protecting whistleblowers who raised concerns about the organization, a cohort that included the group’s former president, Oliver North.

The penalties to be paid by LaPierre — the jury actually found him liable for $5.4 million but determined he’d already paid back a little over $1 million — and Phillips will go back to the NRA, which was portrayed in the case both as a defendant that lacked internal controls to prevent misspending and as a victim of that same misconduct.

James also wants the three men to be banned from serving in leadership positions at any charitable organizations that conduct business in New York. A judge will decide that question during the next phase of the state Supreme Court trial.

Another former NRA executive turned whistleblower, Joshua Powell, settled with the state last month, agreeing to testify at the trial, pay the NRA $100,000 and forgo further involvement with nonprofits.

James sued the NRA and its executives in 2020 under her authority to investigate not-for-profits registered in the state.

She originally sought to have the entire organization dissolved, but Manhattan Judge Joel M. Cohen ruled in 2022 that the allegations did not warrant a “corporate death penalty.”

The trial, which began last month, cast a spotlight on the leadership, organizational culture and finances of the powerful lobbying group, which was founded more than 150 years ago in New York City to promote rifle skills and grew into a political juggernaut that influenced federal law and presidential elections.

Before he stepped down, LaPierre had led the NRA’s day-to-day operations since 1991, acting as its face and becoming one of the country’s most influential figures in shaping gun policy.

During the trial, state lawyers argued that he dodged financial disclosure requirements while treating the NRA as his personal piggy bank, liberally dipping into its coffers for African safaris and other questionable expenditures.

His lawyer cast the trial as a political witch hunt by James.

LaPierre billed the NRA more than $11 million for private jet flights and spent more than $500,000 on eight trips to the Bahamas over a three-year span, state lawyers said.

He also authorized $135 million in NRA contracts for a vendor whose owners showered him with free trips to the Bahamas, Greece, Dubai and India, as well as access to a 108-foot yacht.

LaPierre claimed he hadn’t realized the travel tickets, hotel stays, meals, yacht access and other luxury perks counted as gifts, and that the private jet flights were necessary for his safety.

But he conceded that he had wrongly expensed private flights for his family and accepted vacations from vendors doing business with the NRA without disclosing them.

Among those who testified at the trial was North, a one-time NRA president and former National Security Council military aide best known for his central role in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. North, who resigned from the NRA in 2019, said he was pushed out after raising allegations of financial irregularities.

After reporting a $36 million deficit in 2018 fueled largely by misspending, the NRA cut back on longstanding programs that had been core to its mission, including training and education, recreational shooting and law enforcement initiatives. In 2021, it filed for bankruptcy and sought to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, but a judge rejected the move, saying it was an attempt to duck James’ lawsuit.

Despite its recent woes, the NRA remains a political force. Republican presidential hopefuls flocked to its annual convention last year and former President Donald Trump spoke at an NRA event earlier this month — his eighth speech to the association, it said.

Information for this article was contributed by Philip Marcelo of The Associated Press.

  photo  Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, leaves New York State Supreme Court, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
 
 
  photo  Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, leaves New York State Supreme Court, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
 
 
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