NRA Wayne World lapierre head New York graft TrialNRA Wayne World lapierre head New York graft Trial

New York, January 8 (Reuters) – A lawyer for New York state said that Wayne LaPierre ran the National Rifle Association (NRA) as “Wayne World” for decades. This was said at the start of the gun rights group’s corruption trial, three days after LaPierre quit as CEO without warning.

In August 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued the NRA and its longtime head, Richard Spencer, saying that the group stole millions of dollars to pay for perks for top officials, such as LaPierre’s trips to several resorts.

In her opening remarks, attorney Monica Connell told the twelve jurors that NRA executives had failed to get board permission for conflicts of interest and insider transactions. She also mentioned instances in which they structured contracts for individuals who did not provide any services and punished whistleblowers who raised concerns of impropriety.

Connell eloquently detailed how the NRA, under Wayne LaPierre’s leadership, worked without following correct rules, comparing it to the comic notion of “Wayne World” from the 1990s film. She underlined LaPierre and his close colleagues’ tremendous power over the group, effectively silencing anybody who tried to question or criticise their leadership.

In simpler words, Connell painted a picture of the NRA being managed by a small few, headed by LaPierre, with little supervision or regard for individuals who attempted to dispute their power. This system enabled them to muzzle dissident voices and operate with a degree of autonomy that was harmful to the organisation.

James, who monitors state rules regulating charities, accused both the NRA and LaPierre of misbehaviour, claiming breaches of these standards. The NRA, a long-standing organisation founded in 1871, denied any misconduct and said that it had undertaken measures to resolve any issues.

The NRA responded to James’ claims by stating that her actions were motivated by politics, and that they were an effort to restrict the organization’s First Amendment right of expression. The defence lawyers are set to make their opening comments in a Manhattan courtroom, with LaPierre testifying later.

The NRA’s lawyer, William Brewer, said via email that James’ office lacked evidence to support any misconduct by the group or its board. He emphasised that the information provided by the New York Attorney General is about previous incidents and does not correctly represent the current condition of things at the NRA.

DIFFICULT TIME

The NRA is experiencing a difficult era, with a 44% loss in income since 2016 and a membership decline of almost one-third since 2018. Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s longstanding leader, resigned due to health issues, claiming chronic Lyme disease as the cause. In his absence, Andrew Arulanandam, the long-time communications head, took over as temporary CEO.

LaPierre’s influence at the NRA is significant, as he converted it into a formidable political force, lobbying for increased gun rights at both the federal and state levels, despite the growing number of mass shootings throughout the nation. Between 2008 to the present, critical U.S. Supreme Court rulings that favoured gun rights boosted the NRA’s power significantly.

In James’ legal action, the remaining individual defendants are LaPierre, John Frazer (secretary and general counsel), and Wilson Phillips (former finance head). Joshua Powell, a former high-ranking NRA official, recently settled by admitting to abusing NRA funds and agreed to repay $100,000. Powell, who was fired by the NRA in 2020, has since criticised the organisation for corruption and greed, while still professing support for certain gun-control measures.

Furthermore, Oliver North, a former NRA president entangled in a leadership struggle that resulted to his resignation in 2019, is likely to testify, providing further insight into the organization’s internal dynamics.

ASSIGNING BLAME

Justice Joel Cohen of the state supreme court will be in charge of the hearing, which is expected to last about six weeks. During this time, the jury will decide if the accused did anything wrong with money and how much they should pay back to the NRA. But if the jury decides that the NRA is to blame for letting this kind of wrongdoing happen, it could change the funds that were agreed upon.

In addition to deciding who is financially responsible, the jury will also make suggestions about how John Frazer could be fired. The judge will make the final decision on whether to fire him.

Before he quit, Wayne LaPierre’s role in the NRA wasn’t clear. His departure will take effect on January 31. The NRA made it clear that LaPierre will no longer be involved with or able to give advice to the organisation after he quit, and they have not set up any kind of retirement package for him.

A state appeals court made a decision in late December that let the case go to trial. The court agreed that the review by the New York Attorney General had found strong evidence of wrongdoing in the NRA. Before this ruling, James had tried to shut down the NRA before, but Justice Cohen turned him down in March 2022. The court saw that the NRA was against possible changes in leadership that could have fixed some of the problems that came up during the probe.

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