Jury finds NRA and ex-leader liable for corruption

Connie Queline

Jury finds NRA and ex-leader liable for corruption

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The National Rifle Association and its ex-leader, Wayne LaPierre, have been found liable in a civil corruption trial.

A New York jury found Mr LaPierre cost the gun rights group millions of dollars through lavish spending on himself.

New York Attorney General Letitia James had accused the NRA and Mr LaPierre of violating state laws.

Mr LaPierre stepped down from his job just before the trial began.

On Friday, the jury found that Mr LaPierre, cost the group a total of $5.4m (£4.26m), of which slightly more than $1m has already been repaid. He must now pay $4.35m.

While former NRA finance chief Wilson “Woody” Phillips, general counsel John Frazer and the NRA itself are also co-defendants, Mr LaPierre has been characterised as the “central figure” of the case. Mr LaPierre, 74, was the NRA CEO for more than 30 years.

The jury found that Mr Phillips cost the NRA $2m through mismanagement.

Mr Frazer was found to not have cost the organisation financially.

The NRA said the verdict confirmed what it “contended all along – that it was victimised by certain former vendors and ‘insiders’ who abused the trust placed in them by the association.”

In a response published on-line, it also noted that the group does not have to pay any financial penalties and that the jury found no cause to remove Mr Frazer, the sole defendant who still works at the NRA. The group added that it has in recent years adopted new policies and accounting controls and dropped certain vendors and employees.

On the other side, Ms James said after the trial that Mr LaPierre and the NRA “are finally being held accountable for this rampant corruption and self-dealing”.

Altogether, the two executives must pay $6.35m, she wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“In New York, you cannot get away from corruption and greed, no matter how powerful or influential you think you may be,” she wrote. “Everyone, even the NRA and Wayne LaPierre, must play by the same rules.”

In the trial, defence attorneys for the three men and the NRA sought to portray the proceedings as a “baseless, premeditated attack” and politically-motivated “witch hunt” by Ms James, a Democrat.

But during closing arguments, assistant attorney general Monica Connell said that the NRA, a registered charity, should have spent the funds on its primary mission, rather than on lavish expenses, and of trying to shift responsibility after the fact.

“Saying you’re sorry now, saying maybe you’ll put back a couple of those cookies, doesn’t mean you didn’t take the cookies,” Ms Connell said.

Over the course of the six-week trial, prosecutors detailed several specific expenses that they said showed that Mr LaPierre and other top leaders used NRA funds as their “personal piggy bank”.

One example of misconduct alleged in the lawsuit stated that Mr LaPierre visited the Bahamas more than eight times by private plane using funds intended for the NRA, for a total cost of $500,000 (£380,000).

The evidence also included helicopter trips to car races to avoid being stuck in traffic and expense reports for reimbursement of money spent on landscaping and mosquito treatment at his home, as well as gifts for friends and family and “out-of-pocket” expenses such as hair and makeup styling for Mr LaPierre’s wife.

The judge must now determine – without a jury – whether independent monitors and experts will be installed to oversee the NRA’s charitable assets and administration, and whether Mr LaPierre and Mr Phillips should be barred from re-election or appointments as officers in the NRA or other New York-based non-profits.

Additionally, the judge must determine whether the NRA and Mr Frazer should be barred from soliciting or collecting funds for charities in New York.

Though based in Virginia, the NRA is incorporated in New York City. The attorney general’s Charities Bureau is responsible for oversight of any non-profit organisation, which has strict state and federal rules governing spending.

Founded in 1871 as a recreational group designed to “promote and encourage rifle shooting”, the NRA has grown into one of the most powerful political organisations in the US.

The NRA now lobbies heavily against all forms of gun control and argues aggressively that more guns make the country safer.

It relies on, and staunchly defends, a disputed interpretation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution that individuals are guaranteed the right to own guns.

But the NRA has taken a back seat within the gun rights movement in recent years, as its legal costs soared while revenue and membership dues plummeted.

Related Topics

  • NRA
  • United States


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