NRA head Wayne LaPierre testifies in financial misconduct trial

Former head of the National Rifle Association Wayne LaPierre testified under oath that he would often authorize chartered flights for family members with NRA funds. Photo by Louis Lanzano/UPI

Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Longtime leader of the National Rifle Association Wayne LaPierre confirmed under oath Friday that he used the gun-rights organization's funds on lavish vacations and high-end gifts for friends.

LaPierre took the stand Friday morning in a financial misconduct trial brought forward by New York Attorney General Letitia James. He and other senior NRA leaders are fending off allegations that they violated nonprofit laws and misappropriated millions of dollars in NRA funds for personal use.

The soon-to-be former CEO said he had no knowledge of the large sums the organization spent on private jet rides and black-car services, but he did not dispute the dollar amounts when presented with invoices and receipts.

While LaPierre confirmed NRA rules mandate that employees fly coach, he testified that funds were used to bankroll a $22,000 flight from Washington, D.C., to the Bahamas in 2017.

LaPierre also confirmed he authorized family members to fly on private planes even when he was not present. On one occasion, he authorized his niece, Colleen Sterner, along with her daughter, to take an $11,000 flight from Dallas to her home in Nebraska. They also took a $27,000 flight from Dallas to Orlando, Fla., on company dollars.

He testified he and his family often would travel on a luxury yacht owned by David McKenzie, head of Associated Television International, which had a contract with the NRA. One chartered flight LaPierre and his family took to get to McKenzie's yacht cost nearly $38,000.

LaPIerre acknowledged the NRA board did not approve any of these trips, and various financial discloser forms he filled out in 2017 and 2018 did not detail any involvement with a "non-NRA entity."

The 74-year-old LaPierre previously announced he intends to step down from the NRA, effective Jan. 31, citing health issues.

Those issues have complicated his testimony, as his lawyer previously asked that LaPierre's testimony be limited or even interrupted if he's feeling unwell. A filing from LaPierre's doctor said he suffers from Lyme disease and "cognitive decline with difficulty performing daily tasks."

The trial also is revealing fractures within the NRA. Many of the witnesses in the case are former colleagues of LaPierre who once occupied powerful positions in the organization.

His former top deputy Christopher Cox sad he was "disgusted" when he learned of the exorbitant amount LaPierre spent of suits from a Zegna boutique in Beverly Hills. Cox was pushed out of the NRA after the two had a falling-out.

Another former top deputy, Joshua Powell, reached a $100,000 settlement with the attorney general's office before the trial. He said LaPierre's resignation had been a "long time coming," and it was "far too late after governing over 30 years of corruption."

LaPierre is on trial with John Frazer, the NRA's general counsel, and Wilson Phillips, a former finance chief. James filed a suit seeking to dissolve the New York-based nonprofit in 2020. She alleged the NRA's top leadership diverted "millions of dollars" from its charitable leadership for their personal benefit.

James charged them with failure to follow numerous state and federal laws, which resulted in the NRA allegedly losing $64 million in just three years.