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Ex-NRA President Tells Jury Outgoing Chief Misspent Charitable Funds

(Bloomberg) -- Oliver North, the conservative stalwart and past president of the National Rifle Association, ripped into the gun lobbying group’s outgoing leader, telling a New York jury that Wayne LaPierre wildly misspent the NRA’s charitable funds.

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North, 80, is testifying in lower Manhattan as the star witness in a civil case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James against LaPierre and other current and former NRA leaders.

North, who was ousted from the NRA presidency less than a year after his election in 2018, told the jurors that longtime Chief Executive Officer LaPierre retaliated against him for questioning his leadership and the sums of NRA cash being spent on outside counsel, among other expenses.

“I would say something like, ‘The Brewer bills are astronomical,’” North said, referring to the NRA’s lawyer William Brewer. “And Wayne would say, ‘Brewer is the only person who’s going to be able to keep me out of jail,’ and ‘Brewer is the reason why I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in an orange jumpsuit.’”

Threat to NRA

James alleges the NRA diverted charitable donations for years to enrich its top executives in violation of laws governing nonprofits, and has demanded millions of dollars in restitution and penalties. The organization remains one of the largest nonprofit groups in the US but has taken withering criticism over its finances. The case poses one of the biggest legal threats it has faced since its founding in New York in 1871.

According to the state’s lawsuit, the alleged misuse of donated funds contributed to a reduction in the NRA’s assets by $63 million from 2015 to 2018. James claims the NRA and its top executives retaliated against whistleblowers and failed to disclose conflicts of interest. She alleges the NRA paid more than $500,000 for trips LaPierre took with his family to the Bahamas, and that it spent tens of thousands of dollars on dinners for employees at an upscale Italian restaurant.

From March 2018 to February 2019, the NRA paid $19.3 million to its lawyers, court documents show. North testified that he grew more concerned when he discovered in 2018 that the group was in “serious financial trouble.” He said he and other board members repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to convince LaPierre to authorize a third-party audit of the NRA’s finances.

North said he only wanted to uphold his fiduciary duties as president and “save the NRA” and LaPierre, whom he considered a friend. LaPierre, 74, is stepping down from the NRA presidency at the end of the month. He is expected to testify at the trial this week.

Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, helped found and is a current supporter of Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates gun safety measures.

Longtime NRA Member

North’s tenure was unusual from the start. He had been a member of the NRA since he was a kid and had served for years on its board. When LaPierre encouraged him to run for president, North said he had no interest. He had a job at Fox News with a salary and health insurance, and he assumed that the presidency would require him to relinquish all of that for a position that was traditionally unpaid.

LaPierre came back with an offer promising to “take care” of him with a salary and benefits, North testified.

His contract initially called for him to be paid almost $7 million over a period of three years — $2.1 million the first year, $2.3 million the second and $2.5 million the third. But once he saw the state of the NRA’s finances, he said, he asked instead to receive a flat fee of $1.75 million each year.

LaPierre vehemently disagreed with the voluntary pay cut, North told the jury.

The case is New York v. The National Rifle Association of America, 451625/2020, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

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