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NRA Dissociates From Longtime Leader Wayne LaPierre in Opening Speech at Civil Trial

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Wayne LaPierre
Source: AP

On January 9, there was an open argument in the civil trial against the National Rifle Association and its executives. It saw attorney Sarah Rogers call the NRA a “victim of betrayal” as she tried to distinguish Wayne LaPierre from the group.

She pointed out that LaPierre has been a “valuable and visionary leader” of the organization. However, he was “not always a meticulous corporate executive.”

She admitted before the Manhattan jury that “some past violations” were swept under the rug, unapproved by the NRA board. But that the organization was not “willfully blind to red flags.”

LaPierre, other current and former NRA leaders and the organization as a whole, are in a legal battle brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James in 2020. It alleges they violated nonprofit laws and misused millions of dollars of the organization’s funds for personal use. 

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In the plaintiffs’ opening arguments on Monday, January 8, attorney Monica Connell said LaPierre embezzled millions. All of which he spent on “lavish perks” for himself. These include personal use of private jets, expensive meals, private security, and trips to the Bahamas.

LaPierre, 74, has been leading the NRA for more than three decades as the organization’s executive vice president. He has announced his plan to resign from the group at the end of the month.

According to the lawsuit, the other defendants, including the NRA itself, violated nonprofit laws and internal policies by embezzling. This allegedly contributed to the NRA’s loss of more than $64 million in three years.

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On Tuesday, an attorney for each individual defendant and a separate one for the NRA took turns addressing the 12-member jury. And as usual, they all had brilliant reasons why their clients were facing false accusations. 

The other defendants besides LaPierre are Wilson “Woody” Phillips, a former NRA treasurer and chief financial officer, and John Frazer, corporate secretary and general counsel. Joshua Powell, a former chief of staff and executive director of general operations, was also a defendant. 

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However, he reached a $100,000 settlement with the attorney general’s office and admitted to the allegations brought forth in the lawsuit, including the misuse of NRA funds.

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Connell claimed the NRA has been flouting nonprofit laws and evading oversight for decades. She said, “This case is about corruption. It’s about breaches of trust and power.”

The NRA’s defense team dismissed most of the attorney general’s claims. Still, it said Tuesday that it agrees that there were “some past violations” and failure to follow the board’s policies.

They were all concealed from and unapproved by the NRA board. According to Rogers, the wrongdoers lost their jobs or have left the NRA, and LaPierre has repaid the NRA’s money “with interest.”

The jury will hear testimony over the next six weeks from about 120 witnesses. Six of them will deliberate, while the others will serve as alternates. They will determine the amount of money each defendant will have to repay if they find the individual defendants liable. 

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The jury would have had to recommend whether LaPierre should step down as leader, but LaPierre’s resignation has removed any need for that. They also still have to recommend whether Frazer should lose his job.

At any rate, New York Supreme Court Judge Joel Cohen has the final say over monetary damages and remedies. He can also determine whether the defendants should be permanently restricted from serving on the board of any charity in New York. And whether an independent monitor should oversee the NRA’s finances.

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