NEW YORK: A jury in New York found former NRA gun lobby chief Wayne LaPierre liable for corruptly mismanaging the organisation, US media reported.

LaPierre, who faced a civil trial where he was accused of using the National Rifle Association as a “personal piggy bank,” was also found by the jury to have cost the organisation $5.4 million because of his misconduct — although he has since repaid $1 million of that.

LaPierre said in January he would step down as president of the NRA, citing unspecified health reasons. New York state attorney general Letitia James brought a lawsuit against LaPierre and top NRA leaders in August 2020, leading to Friday’s verdict.

“LaPierre and NRA senior management misappropriated millions of dollars to fund personal benefits, including private jets, expensive meals, and even family trips to the Bahamas,” said James’ office ahead of the trial’s commencement.

LaPierre was accused of using 150-year-old NRA as a ‘personal piggy bank’

“The NRA, as a New York-registered not-for-profit, charitable corporation, has legal obligations to use its funds for charitable purposes, not to support the lavish lifestyles of senior management and organisation insiders.

“(The) investigation found that instead of serving NRA members, senior management blatantly disregarded New York state and federal laws, and even internal NRA policies.” In January, James’ office announced that Joshua Powell, the NRA’s former executive director of operations and chief of staff to LaPierre, had reached a $100,000 agreement with her office. Powell was one of five defendants in the lawsuit.

Failed gun law reform

The 150-year-old NRA is the leading promoter of gun rights in the United States and has focused its efforts since the 1970s on battling gun restrictions. Polls have showed time and again that the majority of Americans want greater gun control, in a country where mass shootings occur regularly, schoolchildren are subjected to routine shooter drills, and there are more guns than people. But politicians have repeatedly failed to reform gun laws.

From 2000 to 2012, the NRA and its allies in the firearms industry combined to pour $80 million into US congressional and presidential races, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the 2016 presidential election, the NRA spent about $20 million for ads attacking Democrat Hillary Clinton and another $10 million for ads supporting Republican Donald Trump.The jury said that LaPierre had already repaid the NRA a little more than $1 million, and a judge will ultimately decide how much he must pay the group. The jury also found that former NRA treasurer and former CFO Wilson Phillips cost the organization $2 million through mismanagement.

John Frazer, the NRA’s current secretary and general counsel, did not harm the organisation financially, the jury said. LaPierre — who had also faced possible removal before resigning in January after more than 32 years as chief executive — built the NRA into a political powerhouse that pressed Washing­ton and statehouses to expand gun rights, even as mass shootings mounted nationwide.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2024

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