Jury finds NRA and ex-leader Wayne LaPierre liable for corruption

Wayne LaPierre
Wayne LaPierre was for nearly three decades as CEO and executive vice president of the NRA before stepping down from his job just before the trial began.

The National Rifle Association and two top executives have been found liable in a civil corruption trial and ordered to repay $6.35m (£5m).

A New York jury agreed that former leader Wayne LaPierre cost the gun rights group millions of dollars through lavish spending on himself.

New York Attorney General Letitia James 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, of which slightly more than $1m has already been repaid. He must now pay back $4.35m.

Former NRA finance chief Wilson “Woody” Phillips, general counsel John Frazer and the NRA itself were co-defendants.

Mr Phillips was ordered to repay $2m.

Mr LaPierre, 74, who was the NRA chief executive for more than 30 years, was in court and reacted impassively to the verdict.

Mr Frazer was found not to have cost the organisation financially, and the jury did not order him to repay any money.

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”.

It also noted 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 gun lobbying organisation added that it has in recent years adopted new policies and accounting controls.

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

The New York attorney general originally sought to have the NRA dissolved outright when her office filed the lawsuit in 2020, but a judge blocked that move.

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 the NRA, a registered charity, should have spent the funds on its primary mission, rather than on lavish expenses.

“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 specific expenses that they said showed Mr LaPierre and other executives had used NRA funds as their “personal piggy bank”.

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.

The evidence also included helicopter trips to car races to avoid being stuck in traffic, as well as money spent on landscaping and anti-mosquito treatments at Mr LaPierre’s home.

There were also gifts for friends and family and 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.

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.

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.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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