NYC trial scrutinizing lavish NRA spending under Wayne LaPierre nears a close


NEW YORK (AP) — A New York lawsuit claiming that National Rifle Association executives wildly misspent millions of dollars of the nonprofit’s money on lavish perks for themselves is wrapping up after weeks of contentious testimony.

Closing arguments began Thursday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan in the case state Attorney General Letitia James brought against the NRA, its former CEO Wayne LaPierre and three other NRA officials. Jury deliberations will follow.

Lawyers for two of LaPierre’s co-defendants — NRA general counsel John Frazer and retired finance chief Wilson Phillips — addressed the jury first.

Frazer’s lawyer, William Fleming, said the key question for jurors was whether his client had “acted in good faith and used appropriate care” while serving as the organization’s lawyer.

“He acted at all times in the best interests of the org that he serves. He’s never acted in his own interest,” Fleming argued. “The man was doing his job, and he was doing it well.”

Phillips’ lawyers similarly argued that their client didn’t breach any of his duties to the organization. On the contrary, he devoted more than 25 years to helping LaPierre grow the NRA into something far larger and more impactful than when Phillips began in the 1990s.

“He is a good man who acted honorably, but the state wants to put him in bankruptcy,” said Mark Werbner, referring to the state’s request that the defendants be ordered to repay the NRA. “He doesn’t deserve to be made penniless.”

The trial has cast a spotlight on the leadership, culture and finances of the NRA, which was founded more than 150 years ago in New York City to promote riflery skills. The group has since grown into a political juggernaut that influences federal law and presidential elections.

LaPierre, who led the NRA’s day-to-day operations since 1991, announced his resignation just days before the trial opened in early January.

James filed the lawsuit in 2020 under her authority to investigate nonprofits registered in the state. Her office argues that LaPierre dodged financial disclosure requirements while treating the NRA as his personal piggy bank, liberally dipping into its coffers to pay for African safaris and other questionable purchases.

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, and gave him access to a 108-foot (33-meter) yacht.

At the same time, LaPierre consolidated power and avoided scrutiny by hiring unqualified underlings who looked the other way, routing expenses through a vendor, doctoring invoices, and retaliating against board members and executives who questioned his spending, according to state lawyers.

Oliver North, best known for his central role in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, was among the prominent witnesses to take the stand.

The retired Marine Corps officer testified that he was forced out as president of the NRA after serving less than a year because he sought an independent review of various financial irregularities.

Testifying over multiple days, LaPierre claimed he hadn’t realized the travel tickets, hotel stays, meals, yacht access and other luxury perks counted as gifts. He also said the private jet flights were necessary because his prominent role in the national gun debate made it unsafe for him to fly commercial.

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

State lawyers have asked the court to order LaPierre and his-co-defendants — which also includes his former chief of staff Josh Powell — to reimburse the NRA, including forfeiting any salaries earned while misallocating funds.

They also want the men banned from serving in leadership positions at any charitable organizations conducting business in New York.

The NRA, meanwhile, remains a strong but tarnished political force.

In recent years, the advocacy group has been beset by financial troubles, dwindling membership, board member infighting and lingering questions about LaPierre’s leadership.

But at its peak, LaPierre was the strident voice of the American gun rights movement.

Even as the nation was shaken by a ceaseless wave of mass shootings, he warned of “jack-booted government thugs” who would seize people’s guns and demonized gun control advocates as “opportunists” who “exploit tragedy for gain.”

After a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, LaPierre blamed the carnage on violent video games and called for armed guards at every school.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he famously claimed in a phrase that remains a rallying cry for gun rights advocates.


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