New York Attorney General Tish James sued the National Rifle Association on Thursday, seeking to dissolve the pro-gun advocacy group over allegations of massive fraud and extensive self-dealing.
At a press conference announcing the lawsuit, filed in state court in Manhattan, James said that a pattern of law-breaking had “contributed to the loss of more than $64 million.”
“The central figure behind this scheme was none other than [NRA Executive Vice President] Wayne LaPierre,” James said.
The lawsuit names LaPierre as well as three other executives as defendants.
Under New York State non-profit law, James has broad powers to seek to dissolve the organization, if it’s found that fraud, corruption, or waste was so endemic at the organization as to have made it impossible for the group to fulfill its charitable purpose, experts told TPM last year.
The lawsuit that James filed on Thursday seeks to do just that, and argues that those “in control of the NRA have looted or wasted the corporation assets,” and “have operated the NRA solely for their personal benefit.”
The NRA responded to the lawsuit by filing one of its own, and by alleging that the case was politically motivated.
(1/3) NRA PRESIDENT RESPONDS TO NY AG:
This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend. You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as…
— NRA (@NRA) August 6, 2020
The NRA has been wracked by infighting since 2019, sparked in part by James’s investigation which began the same year. The group has been involved in vicious litigation with its longtime ad vendor Ackerman McQueen since April 2019, in which both have aired public allegations of self-dealing and massive fraud.
James follows on that, portraying the gun lobby as a vehicle for the enrichment of its leadership.
The lawsuit says that LaPierre would routinely bill the NRA for “private jet travel,” “trips to the Bahamas to vacation on a yacht owned by the principal of numerous NRA vendors,” and “use of a travel consultant for costly black car services.”
The complaint goes through more than a dozen private flights LaPierre took and billed to the gun group, including a $15,000 flight to take his niece’s husband from Nebraska to Las Vegas and back.
The complaint paints a picture of an organization with few financial controls for those at the top. James alleged in the document, for example, that the NRA’s treasurer “learned for the first time that LaPierre’s wife travels alone by private charter at the NRA’s expense when counsel informed him the night before he was examined by the Attorney General in June 2020.”
LaPierre appears to have testified before James’s investigators. The complaint says that LaPierre would frequently say that he had concealed various expenses or travel arrangements from the group’s board for “security reasons.”
That included the use of a 108-foot yacht during trips to the Bahamas, “equipped
with four staterooms, a 16-foot jet boat, and two jet skis,” as well as a chef, all owned by an NRA vendor.
LaPierre, the filing notes, has answered “no” on annual questionnaires asking charities if their officers have taken gifts from people in a business relationship with the non-profit.
“In his testimony to the Attorney General, LaPierre said that the reason he failed to
disclose the use of the yacht was for security reasons and because he considered the yacht to have been used for a legitimate business purpose,” the complaint reads.
The lawsuit accuses LaPierre of taking $1.2 million in reimbursements for “personal expenses” from 2013 to 2017, including $65,000 in Christmas gifts as well as membership fees at a D.C.-area golf club.
LaPierre did, however, have some security arrangements. The lawsuit alleges that the NRA’s director of security “procured an armored vehicle for LaPierre” without letting the non-profit’s purchasing division know.
James’s investigators go on to document the largesse of three other NRA executives, all of whom are accused of billing massive expenses through the gun group.
But the case ends up focusing on an unnamed “senior assistant” of LaPierre’s, who is described both as being “one of LaPierre’s closest and most trusted advisors” and of having “joined the NRA with a criminal record of embezzling from a non-profit where she had worked in the 1980s.”
That unnamed person is accused of charging the NRA $18,000 in costs associated “with her son’s wedding in Minnesota,” and of blowing $100,000 on “two chauffeured vehicles” during a “two-week fundraising excursion in France.”
James also sheds light on the role of Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s longtime vendor who has spent the past year in litigation with the gun group.
Ackerman, James alleged, participated in a “pass-through expense arrangement” with the NRA whereby Ackerman would arrange for things like NASCAR events, private jet trips, and country music events, and then bill the NRA for the costs.
LaPierre, James alleged, would demand that Ackerman provide him with a personal assistant on business travel to handle restaurant payments, bellhops, drivers, and other logistical issues. The assistants would allegedly take thousands of dollars in cash with them “to cover the cost of gratuities that LaPierre would direct” the assistants to pay.
The lawsuit documents dozens of consulting arrangements that allegedly were used to satisfy the indulgences of top NRA officials. This allegedly included taxidermy for animals LaPierre killed on “big game” hunting trips to Africa, as well as membership fees for the International Order of St. Hubertus and the Camp Fire Club.
The International Order of St. Hubertus describes itself as “an ancient knightly organization of like-minded sportsmen, hunters and anglers,” under the royal protection of recently exiled Spanish King Juan Carlos.
Towards the end of the filing, James lands at the conclusion of all her allegations: that the NRA massively underreported the compensation of LaPierre and other executives to the IRS.
James said at a press conference that her office was in the process of referring the NRA to the IRS.
In addition to dissolution, James is seeking LaPierre’s removal, and that he and the other defendants repay their salaries to the NRA with interest, and also cover the costs of “the waste and misuse of its charitable assets.”
Read the complaint here: