Deliberations begin in civil trial against the NRA and its top officials

BySabrina Souza, CNN, CNNWire
Friday, February 16, 2024
NRA goes on trial in NYC over corruption allegations
The NRA and its longtime leader Wayne LaPierre went on trial Monday in New York.

NEW YORK -- The National Rifle Association and its top executives engaged in mass corruption and should pay back to the organization millions of dollars spent on personal expenses, the New York attorney general's office said during closing arguments of the group's civil corruption trial.

The jury began deliberations Friday morning in a case that spotlights one of the most powerful lobbying groups in a nation with more civilian guns than people.

The defendants - the NRA, former CEO Wayne LaPierre, former CFO Wilson "Woody" Philips and general counsel John Frazer - were caught "with their hands in the cookie jar, Assistant Attorney General Monica Connell said in closing arguments Thursday. They denied, deflected and blamed each other for failing to properly administer charitable money and violating non-profit laws in a breach of their fiduciary duties, she said.

"What happens when someone is caught in the act?" Connell asked. "What are they going to do? What does our common sense and life experience tell us they're going to do?"

"Stopping illegal conduct after you've been caught does not make your misconduct disappear," Connell added.

LaPierre, who last month stepped down from his NRA role, citing his health, testified he wasn't in it for the money, Instead, the expenses were part of an effort to bolster the organization's reach and importance, he said.

Connell said LaPierre engaged in a long history of corruption by spending money on private planes, cars, five-star hotels, hundreds of thousands of dollars of clothing, million-dollar deals to insiders, and payments to loyal board members.

The NRA paid $600,000 alone on private flights to the Bahamas for LaPierre, and hair and makeup expenses totaled approximately $41,000, according to Connell.

The NRA's contract with its former advertising firm MMP increased every time LaPierre or his wife spent time on the yacht of the owners of Ackerman McQueen, an MMP entity, she said.

From 2015 through 2022, the NRA paid MMP entities $109 million, and Connell told the jury this amount should be paid in damages split among LaPierre, Philips and Frazer.

"We're talking about trust of NRA donors" and members who gave hard-earned money to charity, Connell said.

AG asks jury to award money to NRA

The hiring and removal of Oliver North, a former NRA president who earlier testified for the state, is a clear example of LaPierre's corruption, Connell said.

LaPierre placed him in presidential role without approval and offered North a million-dollar contract, later suppressing and ousting him, once North raised concerns, she told jurors.

Connell also argued LaPierre kept a group of loyalists in the NRA board who protected, "Wayne's world."

In an unusual twist, members of the NRA could benefit from a verdict against former leaders. Connell said no money would be paid to the state.

The attorney general's office is asking the jury to find against LaPierre and others, and that they reimburse and pay penalties to the organization.

"This is not a witch hunt," Connell said. "The attorney general is trying to get money wrongfully taken from the NRA back to the NRA."

Defense: 'It was in the interest of the NRA'

LaPierre's attorney Kent Correll argued during closing arguments Thursday morning the former CEO "wasn't interested in building a big pile of money for himself; he wasn't interesting in getting money through a back door at the organization."

The state had suggested every private flight LaPierre took "was somehow a personal flight," Correll said. "It wasn't. It was in the interest of the NRA."

"The AG doesn't want you to look at the heroism. They don't want you to look at the freedom he has fought for. They don't want you to look at the 4 million members," he said.

Correll said the New York attorney general set out to destroy the organization and she knew the best way to do that was to get to LaPierre.

"She (Letitia James) wanted to decapitate the organization, and that was for political reasons," he said.

NRA attorney Sarah Rodgers said the misconduct against the non-profit was concealed from the organization, and the mere fact that damages are payable to the group and not the state "tells you what we need to know" about the case.

"If anything was found where I received an advantage, where I received benefits, I wanted to pay it back in interest, which is what I did," LaPierre testified.

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