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Sunday, April 14th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Sunday, April 14th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Former NRA chief Wayne LaPierre misspent gun rights group’s money, owes more than $4M, jury finds

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

New York (AP) — 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 found LaPierre, 74, must repay almost $4.4 million to the powerful gun rights group that he led for three decades, while the NRA’s retired finance chief, Wilson Phillips, owes $2 million. Jurors also found that the NRA failed to properly manage its assets, omitted or misrepresented information in its tax filings and violated whistleblower protections under New York law.

LaPierre, who announced his resignation from the NRA on the eve of the trial, sat stone-faced in the front row of the courtroom as the verdict was read aloud, and did not speak to reporters on the way out.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat who campaigned on investigating the NRA’s not-for-profit status, declared the verdict a “major victory.”

“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. “Everyone, even the NRA and Wayne LaPierre, must play by the same rules.”

The group, which has in recent years has been beset by financial troubles and dwindling membership, was portrayed in the case both as a defendant that lacked internal controls to prevent misspending and as a victim of that same misconduct.

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The jury found NRA general counsel John Frazer had violated his duties, but not that he owed any money or that there was cause to remove him from the organization.

In a statement, the NRA highlighted that part of the verdict in casting the outcome as proof it was “victimized by certain former vendors and ‘insiders’ who abused the trust placed in them.”

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

“To the extent there were control violations, they were acted upon immediately by the NRA Board beginning in summer 2018,” NRA President Charles Cotton said in the statement.

The jury actually found LaPierre liable for $5.4 million, but determined he’d already paid back a little over $1 million.

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’ office said Friday it wants an independent monitor to be appointed to oversee the NRA’s administration of charitable assets. It is also seeking to ban LaPierre and Phillips from serving in leadership positions at any charitable organizations that conduct business in New York, and wants the NRA and Frazer barred from collecting funds on behalf of any charitable organization operating in the state.

A judge will decide those questions during the next phase of the state Supreme Court trial.

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 (33-meter) yacht.

On the stand, 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.

___

(Story by Jake Offenhartz / Associated Press. Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo contributed to this report.)

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