New York Jury to Resume Deliberations in Civil Trial of NRA Officials

The New York Attorney General’s Office claims the NRA operated in a culture of corruption, but the NRA says the lawsuit is a political attack.
New York Jury to Resume Deliberations in Civil Trial of NRA Officials
Wayne LaPierre, CEO and executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, speaks at the CPAC convention in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 29, 2020. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Michael Clements
2/19/2024
Updated:
2/19/2024
0:00

The jury in the civil trial of three National Rifle Association (NRA) executives and the organization itself will resume deliberations on Tuesday, Feb. 20, in New York City.

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed the civil lawsuit on Aug. 6, 2020, based on a 2019 investigation by her office.

The lawsuit originally named former NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, former treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Wilson “Woody” Phillips, former Chief of Staff and Executive Director of General Operations Josh Powell, and corporate secretary and general counsel John Frazer as defendants.

Mr. Powell settled his case on Jan. 5. He agreed to testify for the state and pay the NRA $100,000 in restitution, and he is barred from working with nonprofits.

In a press release issued the day of the filing, Ms. James wrote that the men had used the NRA to benefit themselves, their families, and their friends. She accused them of violating various state and federal laws and “contributing to the loss of more than $64 million in just three years for the NRA.”

An NRA official countered that the lawsuit is nothing more than a political attack designed to dissolve the NRA.

In an email to The Epoch Times, Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s interim executive vice president and CEO, stated that in his view, the New York attorney general failed.

“The NYAG brought this case alleging a ‘persistent’ pattern of violations of law by the NRA. In the NRA’s view, the evidence did not support those claims,” Mr. Arulanandam wrote.

The New York Attorney General’s Office did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Calls for Removal

The complaint asks the court to remove the executives from their positions with the NRA and to bar them from any work with nonprofits, in addition to finding that they used their positions to benefit themselves. It also asks the court to require them to pay restitution to the NRA, including the salary paid during their employment.

Mr. LaPierre, who had been a fixture of the NRA for decades, resigned on Jan. 31. Mr. Phillips retired in 2018 after receiving a $1.8 million consulting contract. Mr. Frazer still holds his position with the organization, NBC News reported.

In March 2022, New York Supreme Court Justice Joel M. Cohen ruled that even if the attorney general’s allegations proved to be accurate, they were not so grievous as to require the dissolution of the NRA. In addition, Justice Cohen wrote that dissolving the gun rights organization could infringe on the First Amendment rights of millions of NRA members.

According to Justice Cohen’s decision, the allegations against the NRA are over harm allegedly done to the organization and its donors.

“In short, the Complaint does not allege the type of public harm that is the legal linchpin for imposing the ‘corporate death penalty,’” Justice Cohen wrote. “Moreover, dissolving the NRA could impinge, at least indirectly, on the free speech and assembly rights of its millions of members.”

The stage for the National Rifle Association Presidential Forum in Harrisburg, Pa., on Feb. 9, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
The stage for the National Rifle Association Presidential Forum in Harrisburg, Pa., on Feb. 9, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

The complaint states that the defendants “instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight at the NRA.”

According to the Attorney General’s office, Mr. LaPierre, his family, and friends benefited to the tune of millions of dollars due to his position with the NRA. The complaint points out that the other three defendants reported directly to Mr. LaPierre.

This included the use of private planes for Mr. LaPierre and his family, including extended family. In addition, the NRA reportedly funded vacations, including private air charter to the Bahamas. On many of those trips, an NRA vendor gifted Mr. LaPierre the use of a yacht.

The complaint lists $36 million for “luxury black car services,” millions of dollars in private security services, a $17 million post-employment contract for Mr. LaPierre, and $1.2 million in questionable expense reimbursements.

Alleged Retaliation

In addition to allegedly enriching themselves and their friends at NRA’s expense, the other defendants are accused of ignoring their fiduciary duties to cover up their alleged activities.

They are also accused of retaliating against whistleblowers and board members who tried to draw attention to the issues they found. One notable example is the case of former deputy director of the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration, television host and retired U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North.

Retired Lt. Col. Oliver North from the National Rifle Association at the CPAC convention in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 28, 2019. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Retired Lt. Col. Oliver North from the National Rifle Association at the CPAC convention in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 28, 2019. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

According to the complaint, Mr. LaPierre helped get Mr. North elected as NRA president. However, he then stymied efforts by Mr. North to investigate an arrangement the NRA had with a law firm, which the organization was reportedly paying upward of $2 million per month. The complaint states that the NRA board of directors had not approved the deal with the law firm, though NRA bylaws required that.

Mr. LaPierre was reportedly instrumental in forcing Mr. North from his position as president over his efforts to uncover the deal.

In response, NRA attorneys said the lawsuit was politically motivated and designed to stifle pro-Second Amendment ideas. They wrote that Ms. James promised “to weaponize the supervisory powers of the NYAG to destroy one of the nation’s oldest, largest civil rights organizations” before she had taken office.

The NRA has a webpage with details about the case. On the website, the NRA claims much of the complaint is overblown, and that the organization has already taken steps to address the issues that did exist.

The steps reportedly taken include cutting ties with employees and vendors who took advantage of the NRA, accepting voluntary restitution plus interest from those parties, hiring a compliance manager, instituting in-house training and compliance procedures, more closely scrutinizing business transactions, and implementing new computer software.

According to an NRA spokesperson, the lawsuit is part of the cost of doing business.

“The NRA’s legal expenses represent an investment in our organization and its mission. This is evidenced by the Bruen decision, defense of the NYAG’s lawsuit, and our First Amendment case, which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court next month. The NRA remains the greatest defender of constitutional freedom, period,” NRA spokesman Billy McLaughlin wrote in an email to The Epoch Times.

Michael Clements focuses mainly on the Second Amendment and individual rights for The Epoch Times. He has more than 30 years of experience in print journalism, having worked at newspapers in Alabama, Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma. He is based in Durant, Oklahoma.
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