Wayne LaPierre, the struggling chief executive of the National Rifle Association, said on Wednesday he kept his organization’s recent bankruptcy a secret from nearly all of its senior officials, including its general counsel, chief financial officer and its chief executive officer. main lobbyist. He also failed to brief most of the NRA board members.
Mr. LaPierre made the comments after speaking, virtually, at a trial in federal bankruptcy court in Dallas. Although the NRA is solvent, it filed for bankruptcy in January in a bold attempt to bypass regulators in New York City, where the NRA has been licensed for a century and a half.
State Attorney General Letitia James sued the association in August, trying to shut it down amid allegations of mismanagement and corruption. She is also seeking tens of millions of dollars in ill-spent funds from Mr. LaPierre and three other current and former NRA leaders.
The nonprofit has been embroiled in a scandal over the past two years, with revelations of lavish spending by the NRA and its contractors – on Zegna suits and luxurious trips Mr. LaPierre has taken in places like Lake Como in Italy and the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. . Other perks included chartered jets for him and his family and vacations on a contractor’s yachts, which were named the Illusions and Grand Illusion.
The bankruptcy proceedings became the latest referendum on Mr LaPierre’s 30-year tenure with the recently infighted gun rights group as he seeks to turn the battle with the New York attorney general into a fight for free speech rather than free benefits. .
“We filed this bankruptcy to seek a level legal playing field, where the NRA could thrive and develop in a fair environment, as opposed to what we believe has become a toxic, armed and politicized government in New State. York, ”said Mr. LaPierre. in his testimony.
The association intends to use bankruptcy to reintegrate into Texas. Mr. LaPierre has kept the file a secret, fearing that leaks could jeopardize the plan.
But the attorney general’s office and the NRA’s biggest creditor, its former advertising company Ackerman McQueen, want the case dismissed – saying the filing, and in particular the failure to notify the council, was highly inappropriate.
“The process Mr. LaPierre followed in filing this bankruptcy case is itself a master class in bad faith and dishonest conduct,” said Monica Connell, Assistant Attorney General.
The trial, which is part of the bankruptcy proceedings, began on Monday to determine whether the case would continue.
In the two years of unrest leading up to the trial, the NRA had gone unusually silent, shutting down its fire-breathing media, NRATV, and parting ways with its former spokesperson Dana Loesch. He was also largely silent in the 2020 presidential election, having played a major role in helping Donald J. Trump get elected in 2016.
But the organization remains a powerful lobbying force that has reshaped the political landscape around guns. Its lasting influence was manifested in the wake of two recent mass shootings, in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., When calls for gun control met with strong Republican opposition and the realities of obstruction. of the Senate.
Bankruptcy, however, is a risky bet for the NRA and a sign of its desperation. Mr. LaPierre and his outside lawyer, William A. Brewer III, architect of the case, could lose control of the organization. One possible outcome, if the case is not dismissed out of hand, Judge Harlin D. Hale could shift the current leadership by appointing a trustee to take over the day-to-day operations of the NRA. The use of a trustee is rare in large corporate bankruptcies and usually only occurs in cases of fraud, incompetence or serious mismanagement.
Gregory E. Garman, an NRA lawyer, spoke out in court against such a result this week, saying “a trustee is in fact a death sentence.”
“The argument that one administrator secures the future of the NRA appeals to our purpose and our role,” Garman said.
The NRA used the lawsuit to claim the group reformed after making modest oversight errors. “Compliance has become a way of life at the National Rifle Association,” Garman said, while acknowledging that there would be “moderately cringe-worthy” moments in the lawsuit.
But these moments undermine demands for reform. Among the issues raised in the proceedings is the fact that Mr LaPierre’s longtime assistant Millie Hallow was kept even after he embezzled $ 40,000 from the NRA for her personal use, including to help with pay for her son’s marriage. (Prior to being hired by the NRA, Ms Hallow pleaded guilty to a crime related to the theft of money from an arts agency she ran.)
The role of John Frazer, the NRA’s Advocate General, also came under scrutiny, when it was revealed that he had no previous experience in such a role and only had two years of private practice. He was left in the dark about key legal decisions, even though he is the organization’s lead lawyer, and was not told in advance by Mr LaPierre that the NRA was filing for bankruptcy. According to a former assistant, Mr. LaPierre once said that he would not use Mr. Frazer “for my parking tickets”. In a pre-trial statement, Mr. LaPierre admitted that he may have made the remark as “a joke at one point”.
Mr. LaPierre himself admitted to making mistakes, including failing to report his use of luxury yachts.
“I now think it should have been disclosed,” he said.
His testimony is expected to continue on Thursday.