NRA and Wayne LaPierre found liable in lawsuit over misspending of funds

<span>New York state lawyers said that LaPierre billed the NRA more than $11m for private jet flights.</span><span>Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters</span>
New York state lawyers said that LaPierre billed the NRA more than $11m for private jet flights.Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

A New York state jury on Friday said the former long-serving National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre – as well as other executives of the gun rights group – were liable in a lawsuit centered on the organization’s lavish spending.

The jury found that LaPierre, who was the NRA’s CEO for three decades, misspent millions of dollars of the group’s money on private flights, vacations and other lavish perks. It ordered LaPierre to pay $4,351,231 in restitution to the group.

Related: Wayne LaPierre: the man who remade the NRA as the ‘good guy with a gun’

The decision came at the end of a six-week trial that began in early January, days after LaPierre announced his resignation from the NRA.

The jury found LaPierre liable for $5.4m, but it determined he had already paid back a little over $1m.

LaPierre sat stone-faced in the front row of the courtroom as the verdict was read aloud.

The verdict is a win for the New York attorney general Letitia James, a Democrat who campaigned on investigating the NRA’s not-for-profit status.

“In New York, you cannot get away with corruption and greed, no matter how powerful or influential you think you may be,” James said in a post on X. “Everyone, even the NRA and Wayne LaPierre, must play by the same rules.”

Retired NRA finance chief Wilson Phillips was ordered to pay $2m in damages to the NRA. NRA general counsel John Frazer was found to have violated his duties, but was not ordered to pay restitution.

The trial cast an unflattering spotlight on the leadership, culture and finances of the NRA, which was founded more than 150 years ago in New York City to promote riflery skills. The group later grew into a political powerhouse that has influenced federal law and presidential elections.

LaPierre billed the NRA more than $11m for private jet flights and spent more than $500,000 on eight trips to the Bahamas over a three-year span, said lawyers for James’s office. State attorneys also say he authorized $135m in NRA contracts for a vendor whose owners showered him with free trips to the Bahamas, Greece, Dubai and India, and gave him access to a 108ft (33-meter) yacht.

LaPierre claimed he hadn’t realized the travel tickets, hotel stays, meals, yacht access and other luxury perks counted as gifts, and that the private jet flights were necessary for his safety.

But he conceded that he had wrongly expensed private flights for his family and accepted vacations from vendors doing business with the NRA without disclosing them.

Among those who testified at the trial was Oliver North, a one-time NRA president and former national security council military aide best known for his central role in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. North, who resigned from the NRA in 2019, said he was pushed out after raising allegations of financial irregularities.

After reporting a $36m deficit in 2018 fueled largely by misspending, the NRA cut back on longstanding programs that had been core to its mission, including training and education, recreational shooting and law enforcement initiatives. In 2021, it filed for bankruptcy and sought to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, but a judge rejected the move, saying it was an attempt to duck James’ lawsuit.

LaPierre denied any intentional wrongdoing, and an attorney for him dismissed the case as a political witch-hunt by James. The NRA’s lawyer said the organization could not be held accountable for LaPierre’s actions.

But the New York assistant attorney general Monica Connell countered that the NRA and its executives had done little more than deny and deflect in an effort to soften the blow of the corruption allegations. “They … blame anyone else but themselves,” said Connell, who argued that LaPierre and the NRA had been caught “with their hands in the cookie jar”.

James filed the lawsuit in 2020 under her authority to investigate non-profits registered in the state.

Her office contended that LaPierre dodged financial disclosure requirements while treating the NRA as his personal piggy bank. One co-defendant, the former NRA chief of staff Joshua Powell, struck a pre-trial settlement requiring him to pay $100,000.

Despite its recent woes, the NRA remains a political force. Republican presidential hopefuls flocked to its annual convention last year and Donald Trump spoke at an NRA event earlier this month – his eighth speech to the association, it said.

Associated Press contributed reporting