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Jury finds NRA and Wayne LaPierre liable in civil corruption trial

Jurors deliberated for five days in the civil corruption trial in New York against the National Rifle Association and its executives.
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Wayne LaPierre diverted millions of dollars away from the National Rifle Association to live luxuriously, while the gun rights group failed to properly manage its finances, a jury found Friday.

The verdict comes after five days of deliberations and ends a seven-week long civil corruption trial in New York City. 

The case against the NRA was brought on by a lawsuit filed in 2020 by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who accused LaPierre and other current and former executives of flouting state laws and internal policies to enrich themselves.

The other defendants were John Frazer, the NRA’s corporate secretary and general counsel, and Wilson “Woody” Phillips, its former treasurer and chief financial officer. 

The jury ruled largely in favor of James, finding that the National Rifle Association failed to properly run its nonprofit and its assets at any time between March 20, 2014 and May 2, 2022. 

Jurors also determined that LaPierre, Phillips and Frazer all violated their statutory obligation to discharge the duties of their position in good faith. 

If jurors found the individual defendants liable, they had to recommend the amount of money that each defendant would have to repay the NRA. 

They said LaPierre caused $5.4 million in monetary harm to the NRA, but that he has already repaid at least $1 million of that. The 74-year-old appeared stoic as the verdict was read.

Phillips caused $2 million in monetary harm to the NRA, they found, while Frazer did not cause any monetary harm to the group.

Frazer is the only individual defendant who still works for the NRA. The jury determined that Frazer made or authorized a false statement in the NRA’s annual filings, but that there is no cause to remove him from his post. 

Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the NRA exits New York State Supreme Court on Jan. 12, 2024.
Wayne LaPierre at New York State Supreme Court on Jan. 12, 2024.Bloomberg via Getty Images

LaPierre served as the NRA’s CEO and executive vice president for more than 30 years before he resigned at the end of January, citing health issues.

Regardless of his resignation, the jury found there was also cause for LaPierre’s removal from the NRA.

LaPierre ignored reporters as he walked out of the courthouse Friday evening, surrounded by five police officers.

Jurors also found that the NRA violated the law by failing to adopt a whistleblower policy and that eight employees suffered because of the violation.

State Supreme Court Judge Joel Cohen will have the final say over remedies. As early as July, he could decide whether any of the individual defendants should be permanently barred from serving on the board of any charity in New York and whether an independent monitor should oversee the NRA’s finances.

Five out of six jurors needed to agree on each part of the verdict. 

In a statement, James called the verdict a "major victory for the people of New York and our efforts to stop the corruption and greed at the NRA."

"LaPierre and senior leaders at the NRA blatantly abused their positions and broke the law," she said. "But today, after years of rampant corruption and self-dealing, Wayne LaPierre and the NRA are finally being held accountable."

John Frazer arrives to a courthouse in New York on Jan. 8, 2024.
John Frazer at the courthouse in New York on Jan. 8.Seth Wenig / AP

James' attorneys spent six weeks in Manhattan court painting the NRA as “Wayne’s World,” which they said was full of free private jets, expensive meals, travel consultants, private security and trips to the Bahamas for LaPierre and his family.

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.

On the stand, LaPierre said he used the organization’s financial resources on chartered private jets, family trips, black car services and high-end gifts for friends. He also testified that he authorized thousands of dollars in helicopter rides so that NRA executives could avoid getting stuck in traffic while traveling to and from NASCAR races.

During cross-examination, LaPierre testified that it was wrong to charter private planes and limo services for personal use.

Visitors at the 2022 NRA convention in Houston.
Visitors at the 2022 NRA convention in Houston.Allison Dinner for NBC News

None of the defendants has been criminally charged as part of James’ lawsuit.

James had initially set out to dissolve the NRA as part of her suit. However, Cohen dismissed that effort in 2022, saying her complaint “does not allege the type of public harm that is the legal linchpin for imposing the ‘corporate death penalty.’”

The NRA has operated as a nonprofit charitable corporation in New York since 1871. Its assets are required by law to be used in a way that serves the interests of its membership and advances its charitable mission.

In the last few years, the NRA has been considerably weaker, with less influence in the political sphere and fewer members. Membership fell to 4.2 million from nearly 6 million five years ago, The New York Times reported.

Membership dues dropped by $14 million from 2021 to 2022, according to an audit filed as part of the lawsuit.