What to know about NRA trial that could topple Wayne LaPierre

What to know about NRA trial that could topple Wayne LaPierre

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Jury selection begins Tuesday in the trial stemming from New York’s lawsuit to remove longtime National Rifle Association (NRA) executive Wayne LaPierre over allegations of tax fraud.

The suit threatens to further kneecap the powerful gun-rights organization as it struggles to recover from a 2021 attempted bankruptcy. The trial is set to begin next week.

Here’s what you need to know:

Allegations of millions in corrupt dealings

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) sued the NRA in 2020, alleging LaPierre and other senior leaders diverted millions of dollars away from the group’s charitable mission and towards luxury personal benefits.

Following an 18-month investigation, James said the NRA fostered “a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement and negligent oversight,” costing the group $64 million over three years.

The suit initially attempted to completely dissolve the organization, but a state court shut down that effort in March 2022, claiming that James’s allegations justify “less intrusive relief.”

“As today’s complaints lays out, we found that the NRA … fostered a culture of noncompliance and disregard for internal controls that led to the waste and loss of millions of assets and contributed to the NRA’s current deteriorated financial state,” James said at the filing of the suit in 2020.

She said LaPierre and other executives used the organization as their “personal piggy bank,” funding luxury Caribbean vacations, fancy dinners and the use of private jets.

The suit seeks to remove LaPierre from the organization he has been the public face of for more than 30 years.

The NRA and LaPierre have denied wrongdoing.

“This is an unconstitutional, premeditated attack aiming to dismantle and destroy the NRA – the fiercest defender of America’s freedom at the ballot box for decades,” LaPierre said in 2020. “The NRA is well governed, financially solvent, and committed to good governance. We’re ready for the fight. Bring it on.”

Decline of influence

The New York lawsuit represents the most serious of a series of troubles facing the organization in recent years. 

The group’s fundraising and membership has continued to fall, losing about a half million members from 2021 to 2022, according to gun violence nonprofit The Trace. The organization also raised just $213 million in 2022, about half of its 2016 total, according to the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

James’s allegations of corrupt dealings also led to an IRS investigation into LaPierre over potential tax fraud in 2020.

Multiple failed dismissal attempts

The NRA has attempted to throw out the suit multiple times in the more than three years since it was filed. The group claimed James targeted the NRA for political reasons and that her suit was an attack on the organization’s free speech rights.

A New York appeals court last week upheld a lower ruling that the case should continue, ruling against the NRA’s free speech argument.

The court said James was justified to pursue the suit against the NRA because of the “ample evidence of malfeasance” discovered in her office’s investigation.

At trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 8, the jury will consider James’s argument that the alleged corrupt dealings should force LaPierre and three other top NRA executives — including General Counsel John Frazer — to pay back funds and potentially be removed. 

The trial is expected to last approximately six weeks.

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