Jury reaches verdict in trial against the NRA and Wayne LaPierre

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Former CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA) Wayne LaPierre leaves New York State Supreme Court on February 21, 2024 in New York City. 

Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images

Jurors reached a verdict Friday in the civil corruption trial against the National Rifle Association and its longtime leader Wayne LaPierre.

The decision comes at the end of the fifth day of deliberations.

A jury had been tasked with determining whether LaPierre, the organization’s former CEO, drew millions of dollars away from the gun rights group on luxuries for himself. They also had to decide whether the NRA failed to properly manage its finances and whether other executives flouted state laws to enrich themselves.

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

The jury had to weigh the fate of each defendant separately and address 10 multipart questions regarding violations of state nonprofit, estate and trust statutes. The claims are related to alleged whistleblower protection violations, breaches of duties, wrongful transactions and false filings.

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

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

The lawsuit was brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James in 2020.

Her 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.”

Wayne LaPierre, former Chief Executive Officer of the National Rifle Association (NRA), leaves the New York State Supreme Court on February 20, 2024 in New York City. 

Adam Gray | Getty Images

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.

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.

He testified that he repaid what he owed the NRA with interest and that he does not feel entitled to any payment now that he has stepped down.

If the jurors find LaPierre liable, they can decide if LaPierre should receive a credit for relevant payments he has already made.

State Supreme Court Judge Joel Cohen has the final say over monetary damages and remedies. Cohen could determine whether Frazer, the only individual defendant who still works for the NRA, should be removed from his post.

Cohen could also 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.

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.

Sumber: www.cnbc.com

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