N.Y. Attorney General Letitia James Statement on NRA Case Win

by Vern Evans

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The New York Attorney General’s Office posted a press release announcing their successful prosecution of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre and others in a civil corruption trial.

Wayne LaPierre was found guilty of breach of fiduciary duty and assessed damages of $4.3 million. John Frazier was also found guilty of the same charge but the jury didn’t assess any restitution for damages to him.

The jury also found former NRA Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Wilson Phillips guilty as well. The jury tagged him for $2 million.

Meanwhile the jury also found the NRA as an organization guilty of failing to properly administer its charitable assets, violating N.Y. law protecting whistleblowers in addition to retaliating against those trying to bring attention to improper or illegal acts by the organization—including false filings.

Letitia James details much of this in her press release:

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced that the jury in her case against the National Rifle Association (NRA) and three current and former senior leaders has found the defendants liable for violating the law. The jury found that Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and former Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Wilson “Woody” Phillips were liable for financial misconduct and corruption in managing the organization. The jury concluded that LaPierre abused his position for his personal benefit and steered lucrative contracts to friends and relatives, including spending millions of organization dollars on lavish travel, private planes, expensive clothing, and more. LaPierre was found to have caused the NRA $5.4 million in damages and must pay $4.35 million. The jury also determined that Attorney General James has shown cause for removal of LaPierre from the NRA based upon his violations. 

The jury also found that the NRA failed to properly administer charitable funds and violated state laws that protect whistleblowers. Phillips and the current General Counsel and Corporate Secretary John Frazer were found liable for failing to uphold their duties as nonprofit executives. Phillips was ordered to pay $2 million in damages. Frazer and the NRA were also found liable for making false statements on the NRA’s regulatory filings.

“This verdict is a major victory for the people of New York and our efforts to stop the corruption and greed at the NRA,” said Attorney General James. “For years, Wayne LaPierre used charitable dollars to fund his lavish lifestyle, spending millions on luxury travel, expensive clothes, insider contracts, and other perks for himself and his family. LaPierre and senior leaders at the NRA blatantly abused their positions and broke the law. But today, after years of rampant corruption and self-dealing, Wayne LaPierre and the NRA are finally being held accountable. We will not hesitate to pursue justice against any individual or organization that violates our laws or our trust, no matter how powerful they are.”

Over the course of a six-week trial, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) presented evidence revealing the extent of the NRA and its senior leaders’ violations of the law and misuse of NRA funds. The evidence presented included:

    • Invoices of repeated private flight trips to the Bahamas taken by Wayne LaPierre with friends and family and paid for by the NRA, including some invoices which concealed passengers and destinations;
    • Invoices of helicopter trips to NASCAR races to avoid being stuck in traffic;
    • Expense reports submitted by Wayne LaPierre and paid by the NRA for reimbursement of outdoor mosquito treatment at his house, landscaping for his house, and gifts for friends and family;
    • A no-show post-employment contract between the NRA and Woody Phillips to pay him $360,000 annually in addition to $3,500 in monthly office rent; 
    • Invoices worth more than $4 million dollars from the NRA’s then-largest vendor, Ackerman McQueen, for “out-of-pocket” expenses that had no detail and were used as a pass through for other expenses incurred by NRA Executives, including high end travel expenses for Wayne LaPierre and hair and makeup expenses for LaPierre’s wife; and
    • Testimony from whistleblowers detailing harassment, intimidation, or other forms of retaliation by the NRA for raising concerns about the misuse of funds.
Letitia James
New York State Attorney General Letitia James announces that the state is suing the National Rifle Association during a press conference, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Following the jury determination of liability against the NRA and the individual defendants, a separate court proceeding before Justice Cohen, sitting without a jury, will be held to determine whether to award non-monetary relief, including: 

    • Whether an independent compliance monitor, which would report to the Court, should be appointed to ensure the proper administration of the NRA’s charitable assets.
    • Whether an independent governance expert should be appointed to advise the Court on reforms necessary to the NRA’s governance to ensure the proper administration of the NRA’s charitable assets.
    • Whether Wayne LaPierre and Woody Phillips should be permanently barred from re-election or appointment as an NRA officer or director, or from any other New York state not-for-profit corporation.
    • Whether the NRA and John Frazer should be barred from soliciting or collecting funds on behalf of any charitable organization operating in New York.

Attorney General James thanks the jury for their time and service. 

Attorney General James filed a lawsuit against the NRA, LaPierre and the other current and former senior officers in August 2020. In January 2021, Judge Joel Cohen ruled in Attorney General James’ favor and denied motions to dismiss the case and change the court venue. In January 2021, the NRA filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to avoid accountability by trying to reorganize in Texas. In May 2021, a federal bankruptcy court in Texas rejected the NRA’s bankruptcy petition, stating, “that the NRA did not file the bankruptcy petition in good faith.”  

In September 2022, Judge Joel Cohen rejected another attempt by the NRA to challenge the Attorney General’s claims and affirmed that Attorney General James can seek an independent monitor to ensure the proper administration of the NRA’s charitable assets as part of her lawsuit. In December 2023, the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department affirmed that decision. In January 2024, a final effort to delay the trial was rejected by the Appellate Division, First Department.

On the eve of the trial, Wayne LaPierre stepped down as Executive Vice President and CEO of the NRA, a role he held for more than 30 years. Also days before the trial, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) reached a $100,000 settlement with the NRA’s former Executive Director of Operations and Chief of Staff Joshua Powell in which he admitted wrongdoing.

The OAG’s litigation and trial team was led by Assistant Attorney General and Special Counsel Monica Connell and Chief of the Enforcement Section Emily Stern, with a team of attorneys and legal assistants, including Bureau Chief James Sheehan, Assistant Attorneys General Jonathan Conley, Erin Kandel, Jonathan Lester, Alexander Mendelson, Steve Shiffman, Daniel Sugarman, Stephen Thompson, and William Wang, and legal assistant Nyna Sargent — all of the Charities Bureau. Additional assistance was provided by Jacqueline Sanchez, Sophia Friedman, Luz Ceballos-Lopez and Imani Saddler. The Charities Bureau is part of the Division for Social Justice, which is overseen by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and led by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

What does that mean for the NRA as a whole?  It mean the judge in case has great latitude in appointing monitors to oversee the organization and potentially even removing those currently leading the organization. Time will tell how that works out.

Meanwhile some of LaPierre’s cronies, some of whom no doubt benefitted from lucrative contracts with the organization, may choose to leave. After all, NRA’s donors no doubt remember all of those invectives hurled by LaPierre’s loyalists at those who tried to expose improper, immoral or illegal actions by the WLP and his allies. Their allegations, proved as true during this trial, were at the time labelled as “slanderous lies.”

nraam nra meeting board of directors north
Dan Z for TTAG

Donors will remember who defended LaPierre’s self-serving or made excuses for it. If those people take over the organization, little will probably change within the organization and so too little will change with the declining revenues.

This year’s NRA Annual Meetings in Dallas should prove quite … entertaining.

Moreover, James’ civil corruption prosecution has done more to help reform the NRA than multiple attempts by members in recent years to cull corruption from the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.  In a great irony, Letitia James was actually fighting to make the NRA stronger by removing the most corrupt aspects of the orgs leadership.  We’re unsure if she recognizes that through the fog of her hate for the most well-known gun rights organization in America.

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