NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre Found Liable in Civil Corruption Suit

Michael M Santiago/GettyImages
Michael M Santiago/GettyImages

After a bitterly fought six-week civil trial, a New York jury on Friday found ex-National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre liable for improperly spending millions of dollars of the pro-gun group’s money on luxuries such as private jet flights, extravagant vacations, and sun-soaked stays on private yachts.

LaPierre’s profligate ways violated his fiduciary duties and cost the NRA some $5.4 million, the jury determined. He has reimbursed the organization $1.5 million thus far, so now must pay $4.35 million.

Jurors deliberated for five days before returning their verdict on the state’s allegations of brazen corruption by the 74-year-old LaPierre. In court, prosecutors from the New York State Attorney General’s Office laid out a broad array of evidence to demonstrate what they described as a high-living chief executive using the NRA as his own personal slush fund. When questioned on the stand about receiving luxurious gifts including Italian suits worth nearly $300,000, LaPierre insisted he considered the clothes to have been “work items.”

“I did all the television for the NRA,” he testified, explaining that his publicist wanted him to look good onscreen.

The decision is the culmination of a 2020 lawsuit Attorney General Letitia James brought against LaPierre, along with co-defendants John Frazer, the NRA’s general counsel, former CFO Wilson “Woody” Phillips, and the NRA itself, accusing them of, among other things, violating state nonprofit laws and flouting attempts at oversight. All told, the corruption by LaPierre and the others cost the NRA more than $64 million in three years, according to prosecutors.

In the wake of the verdict Friday, James called it “a major victory for the people of New York and our efforts to stop the corruption and greed at the NRA.”

“LaPierre and senior leaders at the NRA blatantly abused their positions and broke the law. But today, after years of rampant corruption and self-dealing, Wayne LaPierre and the NRA are finally being held accountable,” James said in a statement.

Authorities busted LaPierre, who was once called “the craziest man on earth” by the New York Daily News, and his top execs with their “hands in the cookie jar,” Assistant Attorney General Monica Connell said last week during closing arguments.

“They’re going to try to get you to think about anything except what happened to those cookies,” she told jurors. “They’re going to blame anyone else but themselves.”

And that’s pretty much how things played out. The NRA pointed the finger at LaPierre, Frazer and Phillips said they were just doing their jobs, and LaPierre’s attorney, P. Kent Correll, claimed the entire affair was little more than a political witch hunt by an AG who wanted to “decapitate” the NRA.

Correll argued that the private flights were booked out of concern for LaPierre’s safety, echoing LaPierre’s 2021 claim about escaping to a 108-foot yacht for “security” reasons in the face of threats he said he had received in the aftermath of the 2021 Sandy Hook school shooting.

“[T]his was the one… place that I hope could feel safe, where I remember getting there going, ‘Thank God I’m safe, nobody can get me here,” LaPierre testified at a deposition. “And that’s how it happened. That’s why I used it.”

Correll said that LaPierre always acted in the best interests of the NRA, and that he was a selfless leader who put the organization’s goals ahead of “building a big pile of money for himself.” The private jet travel, Corell told the jury, “was in the interest of the NRA.”

“The AG doesn’t want you to look at the heroism,” he said in closing arguments. “They don’t want you to look at the freedom he has fought for. They don’t want you to look at the 4 million members.”

LaPierre resigned as CEO in January, shortly before the trial opened. LaPierre’s former chief of staff, Josh Powell, who initially blew the whistle on the financial malfeasance and in 2020 published a tell-all book about the dirty dealings at the NRA, settled with the AG’s office last month, agreeing to testify in court, pay back $100,000 to the NRA, and refrain from any future a role at nonprofit.

“I only wish our founders, Jim and Sarah Brady, who LaPierre and the NRA senselessly harassed for trying to free us from gun violence, could be here to see this day,” Kris Brown, president of anti-gun violence group Brady United, said in a statement following the verdict.

“For once, the man who lied to America for decades, who worked to deceive our nation into believing that guns would make us safer, is going to have to pay up for his nefarious practices and irresponsible business dealings,” Brown said. “The $4.4 million price tag is only a drop in the bucket for what he owes the American people for the carnage he fueled, but it is a good start on the road to accountability.”

James has said she “seeks to dissolve the NRA,” and wants LaPierre, Phillips, and Frazer to “make full restitution for funds they unlawfully profited and salaries earned while employees; pay penalties; recover illegal and unauthorized payments to the four individuals; remove… Frazer from the NRA’s leadership… and ensure none of the four individual defendants can ever again serve on the board of a charity in New York.”

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