New York Jury Says LaPierre Owes NRA Millions, Judge Could Appoint Overseer – Bearing Arms

New York Jury Says LaPierre Owes NRA Millions, Judge Could Appoint Overseer – Bearing Arms

A  jury in New York finished a week of deliberations in the NRA’s civil trial by delivering a multi-million dollar verdict against Wayne LaPierre and former treasurer Woody Phillips, while leaving open the possibility that the judge overseeing the case will appoint a special monitor to watch over the organization’s spending. 

The jury didn’t accept every one of Attorney General Letitia James’s arguments, but they still found that LaPierre and other NRA higher-ups treated the organization like their personal piggy bank, while those in charge of watching over the group’s finances allowed the spending spree to go on for years. 

In its verdict, the jury found LaPierre should pay the powerful gun rights group $4.3 million in damages for mismanagement and misspending charitable funds on lavish personal trips, no-show contracts and other questionable expenditures.

The jury found he violated his fiduciary duties from 2014 to 2022 when he was at the helm of the non-profit group. The panel said he caused $5.4 million in damages to the NRA by violating his statutory duties, but he proved he already repaid a little over $1 million to the charity. 

The jury also found cause to remove him as executive vice president of the gun rights group. Although he resigned last month, the judge will decide whether to permanently bar him from leading the NRA in an upcoming bench trial.

But the jury did not find him liable for breaking laws against self-dealing when he secured a post-employment contract with the NRA in a package that the New York Attorney General’s Office valued at over $17 million, finding that it was properly approved in advance by the NRA board.

The jury also decided that Phillips, the NRA’s former treasurer, should pay $2 million in damages, while the group’s general counsel John Fraser was found to have either made or authorized false statements in annual tax filings. The jury declined to state that Fraser should be removed from his position, however, unlike the recommendation they made for LaPierre’s future involvement with the organization. 

As for the decision to appoint a guardian over the NRA’s finances, according to NBC News that could take a few more months, with a bench trial scheduled for July. Judge Joel Cohen will also be deciding whether LaPierre, Phillips, and Fraser should be able to work for or serve on the NRA’s board going forward, and at this point I’d say its not likely that the first two are going to get off easy. 

During closing arguments, Monica Connell, an attorney with the state Attorney General’s Office, compared the defendants to children caught stealing from a cookie jar. 

She urged the jury to hold the defendants accountable, even if their attorneys outlined steps they may have taken to address or correct violations.

“Saying you’re sorry now,” she said, “doesn’t mean you didn’t take the cookies.”

The NRA’s attorney countered by distancing the group from LaPierre and fortifying its defense that former rogue employees had stolen from the NRA without the group’s knowledge.

“If this is a case about corruption, it wasn’t corruption by the NRA,” NRA attorney Sarah Rogers told jurors.

In his final remarks, LaPierre’s attorney, P. Kent Correll, said James set out years ago to “decapitate” the NRA and sued LaPierre as part of that goal.

I abso-freaking-lutely agree that James’ entire investigation was politically motivated. She declared the NRA a target even before she was elected Attorney General, and she originally tried to use her investigation to dissolve the civil rights group; something Judge Cohen took off the table, thankfully, in the early stages of litigation. This was 100 percent a witch hunt. It’s just that James stumbled across some witches during the course of her investigation. 

I don’t think too many NRA members would begrudge LaPierre expensive suits so he’d look good while representing the organization and its members on Meet the Press or This Week. It could very well be that a majority of dues-paying members accept LaPierre’s argument that he had to use private jets for his travel given his position as the ostensible face of the Second Amendment movement. But private jet rides for family members? Using NRA funds for expensive gifts for friends and associates? Some of this spending was so clearly wrong that LaPierre paid back the NRA more than a million bucks; and it really doesn’t matter if he was suddenly made aware that these weren’t appropriate expenses or if it was an effort to try and preempt James’ arguments at trial. 

So what happens now? It’s an open guess at this point. The NRA board isn’t scheduled to meet until the Annual Meeting in mid-May, but if they want to present the judge with an argument that they can be trusted to handle the org’s finances without the need for an overseer, it would behoove them to have an interim meeting where they can strategize on who the next EVP and CEO will be, as well as the necessary steps towards transparency and accountability to show Cohen that it’s not just business as usual. 

There’s also a power struggle on the board between some members of the old guard and a small group of reformers (most of whom are actually former board members now running for election), and right now I’d say the forces of the status quo have the upper hand. The board elections, which are underway now, are the best opportunity for rank-and-file members to weigh in on the direction the NRA takes in the immediate future, but the results won’t be known until the Annual Meetings kick off in Dallas on May 17th. 

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