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Longtime NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre found liable in corruption trial

A New York jury on Friday found that the National Rifle Association and its top leaders, including former CEO Wayne LaPierre, engaged in financial misconduct and corruption for decades.

Jurors spent five days deliberating and came to their decision late Friday afternoon, bringing an end to the six-week civil showdown between the powerful gun rights group and the government.

The New York jury found that LaPierre “violated his statutory obligation to discharge the duties of his position in good faith,” and that his actions cost the NRA $5.4 million. He has already paid more than $1.3 million back and was ordered to pay the rest back to the organization.

As the verdict was read, LaPierre, who has been the face of the organization for years, stared straight ahead with his hands clasped in his lap, according to those inside the courtroom.

The NRA and LaPierre were caught “with their hands in the cookie jar” and “caught with crumbs on their face and on their shirt,” Monica Connell, a lawyer representing New York Attorney General Letitia James, said during closing arguments.

Lawyers for James’s office spent weeks painting the NRA as a deeply flawed and mismanaged organization with little fealty to its mission of supporting gun rights. Instead, they argued the top brass at the nonprofit organization spent millions in member dues and donations on themselves.

“This case is about corruption: misuse of funds spent on jets, black cars, five-star hotels, hundreds of thousands of dollars of suits, multimillion-dollar deals to insiders, payments to loyal board members, and pervasive violations of internal controls,” Connell told a jury in a packed New York City courtroom.

Central to the state’s case against the NRA were the actions of its longtime leader, LaPierre, who spent NRA money like it was his personal piggy bank, flying on private jets, taking luxury vacations at 5-star resorts, and sunning on super-yachts.

LaPierre, who announced his resignation just days before the start of the trial, billed the NRA more than $11 million for those private jet rides and spent more than $500,000 on eight luxury trips to the Bahamas over a three-year span.

Prosecutors said he also authorized $135 million in NRA contracts to a vendor who paid for LaPierre to go not only to the Bahamas but also to India, Greece, and Dubai and gave him access to a 108-foot yacht.

LaPierre, who took the stand for multiple days, testified he didn’t realize the luxury “perks” he received counted as “gifts,” even though he eventually conceded that he was in the wrong for expensing flights for his family, hotel stays, meals and other presents he received from vendors doing business with the NRA without disclosing them.

LaPierre’s personal attorney batted back claims of corruption and called the case against him a “political witch hunt.”

Former NRA President Oliver North testified for the government.

North, who was pulling in a $1 million a year salary at the NRA, said he was unceremoniously ousted after raising concerns about financial improprieties. He claimed he repeatedly pressed LaPierre over spending issues but that the concerns fell on deaf ears. North likened the hostility he faced at the NRA to that of a “circular firing squad.”

Best known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, North resigned from the organization in 2019 following his bitter battle with LaPierre.

During cross-examination, North denied claims that it was he who had tried to remove LaPierre from power.

“I never initiated a coup or a replacement or any of that garbage,” he said. “I did try to tell Wayne that there is going to be a lot of bad stuff coming out.”

During his closing arguments, Kent Correll told jurors about LaPierre’s successes at the NRA, which included recruitment, widening the group’s appeal, and fighting gun control measures on a federal, state, and local level.

“He was on the road building relationships because he knows that’s what he’s good at,” Correll said.

Sarah Rogers, an attorney for the NRA, tried to distance the organization from LaPierre, arguing that the organization should not be held accountable for LaPierre’s actions and that the NRA was also “a victim” of LaPierre’s “betrayal.”

She added that the majority of the employees at the NRA have worked tirelessly to promote its root causes. Rogers also told the jury that whether or not they agreed with what the NRA stood for, it was not a “scam” charity and added that the NRA has been highly effective in its gun rights advocacy, which is why “everyone in this room knows the NRA by name.”

LaPierre wasn’t the only leader at the NRA in hot water with prosecutors. Other defendants in the case included John Frazer, the NRA’s general counsel, and Woody Philips, a former finance chief.

The attorney general’s office is seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages but also wants to bar LaPierre, Frazer, and Phillips from ever working with nonprofit groups in New York.

Even though the NRA is headquartered in northern Virginia, the trial was held in New York because the organization was chartered as a nonprofit group there more than 150 years ago.

-Washington Examiner

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