During questioning on the third day of a federal bankruptcy hearing, LaPierre defended his leadership of the gun rights group and the benefits he and his family received from NRA contractors.
But his testimony underscored arguments from NRA attorneys this week that LaPierre has effectively cleaned up ethical issues and governance since 2018, when the organization was first warned by New York officials about possible tax mismanagement.
Last year, New York Attorney Letitia James (D) sued the NRA, alleging that LaPierre and three other top officials used the group’s resources to their own personal advantage. She has tried to dissolve the organization.
In testimony Wednesday, LaPierre – as other NRA officials had previously done – acknowledged that the full board and attorney general were not informed in advance of the bankruptcy plan.
And he expressed regret for not internally disclosing the free rides he accepted on a yacht owned by David McKenzie, a California filmmaker affiliated with companies that the lawyer’s office allegedly received millions of dollars in contracts over the years. NRA.
“I think that was one of the mistakes I made by not mentioning it” about an NRA disclosure of conflicts of interest, LaPierre said.
He said boat trips were necessary for business reasons and because they provided a safe retreat from physical threats that he received in the wake of mass shootings.
LaPierre admitted during questioning that he had not completed the NRA Form of Conflict of Interest Form for several years. He finally did so this week, according to a document submitted as part of the hearing.
Even before the 71-year-old NRA chief appeared on the stand, his actions had been at the center from the opening of the hearing, which will determine whether the gun rights group is allowed to seek bankruptcy protection.
New York’s law firm has claimed that LaPierre mismanaged the organization against bankruptcy as a way to avoid the far-reaching lawsuit it filed last year.
The suit prompted the NRA to announce plans to move from New York, where it has been chartered since 1871, to Texas. The organization also moved to seek bankruptcy protection, saying its economy was sound, but that action was needed to protect itself from what officials characterized as a politically motivated investigation.
“We filed for bankruptcy to look for a fair, lawful game where the NRA could grow and thrive. . . as opposed to what we believe had become a toxic, politicized, firearms government in the state of New York, ”said LaPierre in response to questions from James G. Sheehan, head of the charity’s office in the New York attorney general’s office.
Speaking via WebEx video conference, LaPierre, wearing a dark suit and blue tie and sitting in front of the bookshelves, confirmed that he used the term “dump New York” in a press release describing the impetus for the bankruptcy archive.
Lawyers for James claimed it was the actions of NRA officials that put the organization in jeopardy.
“If the NRA is facing an existential crisis as a result of the bankruptcy, it was a crisis created by LaPierre and his activists and by their choices,” said Monica Connell, an assistant attorney general in New York, arguing that LaPierre was hiding the bankruptcy plan of the NRA. Board of Directors and other top officials until after the bankruptcy petition was filed in January.
The New York investigation began in 2019 when internal conflicts over NRA spending jumped dramatically into public perception. The group’s president, Oliver North, was ousted after he said he was trying to alert about the organization’s spending. His exit was followed by the NRA’s top lobbyist, Christopher W. Cox, among other officials.
In the midst of the unrest, several allegations of lavish spending by officials in the powerhouse lobby were reported by The Washington Post and other news organizations, including suits purchased by LaPierre at a clothing store in Beverly Hills and extensive private travel and tens of thousands of dollars flowing into the NRAs. external lawyer.
During the hearing Wednesday, LaPierre said the suits were purchased following proposals from the NRA’s longtime advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen, which is filing for bankruptcy. Asked whether the suits purchased by Ackerman were a gift, LaPierre replied Wednesday, saying, “No. They were work, a work wardrobe. ”
The NRA acknowledged in a tax filing last year that current and former executives – including LaPierre – used the nonprofit group’s resources for personal gain. LaPierre “corrected” the financial losses by repaying the NRA, the filing said.
In addition to LaPierre, New York Attorney General Wilson names “Woody” Phillips, a former NRA treasurer and chief financial officer; Joshua Powell, a former Chief of Staff and CEO of General Operations; and John Frazer, the company secretary and general counsel, who spent hours at the booth Tuesday and Wednesday before LaPierre testified.
James said the actions of the top executives contributed to the loss of more than $ 64 million over three years as they enriched themselves and “overruled and avoided internal control. . . without regard to the best interests of the NRA, ”according to the case.
LaPierre and the other officials have denied James’ claims.
The New York Attorney General and Ackerman McQueen have asked the judge to dismiss the organization’s bankruptcy petition, saying it was filed to avoid liability in court.
“LaPierre’s only goal is to cling to power,” Connell told the judge Monday. She said LaPierre’s private travel consultant will testify in the coming days, showing she was instructed to hide invoices showing LaPierre’s flights to the Bahamas, where he went on annual trips with his family.
While in the Bahamas, the NRA chief lived on McKenzie’s yacht, Illusions, recognized LaPierre on Wednesday. He also stayed as a guest with McKenzie at a resort in the Bahamas, where he said he did business with potential celebrity donors.
According to the Wall Street Journal, McKenzie is affiliated with Membership Marketing Partners, a major NRA provider. The company was paid $ 11.5 million for fundraising services in 2019, according to an NRA tax record.
McKenzie is tied to other NRA vendors, including Associated Television International Inc., which produced a show called “Crime Strike” for the NRA. McKenzie did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the judge allows the NRA to file for bankruptcy, James’s office and Ackerman McQueen have asked the court to appoint a trustee to manage the organization and replace LaPierre and his team.
During initial arguments during the hearing, NRA attorney Greg Garman called LaPierre an “irreplaceable asset,” citing his fundraising abilities and defending his leadership.
“A trustee is actually a death sentence,” Garman said in response to this request because LaPierre raises $ 100 million annually for the 150-year-old organization.
More broadly, he argued that LaPierre has introduced stricter tax and supervisory policies.
LaPierre is the group’s most prominent figure after leading the NRA’s aggressive response to efforts to seek arms control in the wake of mass shootings.
After the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., LaPierre rejected regulation demands, saying, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
His response attracted criticism from Newtown families and Democrats, but produced revenue and a wave of new members for the organization. The NRA was also seen as blocking the adoption of proposed weapons regulations at the time.