New York state Attorney General sues to smash the gun lobby
President Donald Trump shakes hands with National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as he arrives for the National Rifle Association Leadership Forum on April 28, 2017, in Atlanta. The New York lawsuit would dismantle the NRA completely. | Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

NEW YORK—The leaders of the notorious radical right gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, are corrupt. They’ve pilfered tens of millions of dollars from its till to line their own pockets. And they, especially head honcho Wayne LaPierre, run a crooked enterprise which should be smashed.

In plain English, that’s the message from New York Attorney General Letitia James. She marched into State Supreme Court in Manhattan on August 6 with a suit to bring the NRA to an end and try its four top executives, led by LaPierre, its extremist Executive Vice President, for financial crimes.

“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,” James said in unveiling the lawsuit. “The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organization is above the law.”

James wants the court to dissolve the NRA, and redirect “present and any future assets” for “charitable uses” which the group originally was set up in 1871 to promote: Teach responsible handling of guns.

She also wants the judge to rule the NRA “carried on, conducted, or transacted its business in a persistently fraudulent or illegal manner” while its board and audit committee looked the other way, or were fired by LaPierre if they questioned anything.

“Directors or members in control of the NRA”—LaPierre and cronies—”looted or wasted the NRA’s assets, perpetuated the corporation solely for their personal benefit, or have otherwise acted in an illegal, oppressive or fraudulent manner,” the suit says. LaPierre is the lobby’s dominant force and public face.

“It is in the interest of the members to dissolve the NRA,” the New York AG’s suit concludes.

James is not the only Attorney General going after the gun lobby. The same day, D.C.’s  Karl Racine sued the NRA and its charitable foundation in D.C. Superior Court. In so many words, Racine says the NRA controls the foundation, their two boards are the same, and that when the NRA hit the financial skids in recent years, the lobby illegally milked the foundation, incorporated in D.C., for needed cash.

The suits and the breakup demand mark a new nadir for the NRA, feared by pols in the past for its extremism, and the fanatic single-mindedness of many of its members. They made “the right to bear arms,” but really to shoot anyone and everyone they want, the litmus test for their votes.

The NRA also is a big part of the extreme right-wing coalition, including white nationalists, which now runs the GOP. Congressional Republicans oppose it at their political peril in primaries.

But the NRA has hit the rocks financially and politically. LaPierre forced out its former figurehead leader, infamous retired Lieut. Col. Oliver North, for opposing lavish spending—including fancy cars, chartered planes and eight roundtrip flights to the Bahamas—on LaPierre’s behalf, plus other abuses.

LaPierre’s chartered planes alone cost the NRA at least $1.336 million, none of it substantiated, in three years ending in 2018. And while NRA orders officers to book travel through its in-house agent, LaPierre used his own unnamed California travel agent for 20 years and paid her more than $13.5 million from 2014 through 2020. “In 2018, the NRA paid LaPierre’s travel consultant $2,630,531.71.”

LaPierre and the NRA’s longtime PR firm, Ackerman McQueen, got into a fight over millions of dollars in fees and the firm walked, taking records with them, the suit notes, after detailing transactions. That wasn’t the end of the carnage at the gun lobby, much of it outside the lawsuit’s scope.

Open fighting led to resignations by at least a dozen board members, and insider dealing charges against another. Contributions crashed and the NRA ran in the red. It had to shut its propaganda organ, NRA TV. It pumped $30 million into GOPer Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, despite all the financial losses.

Meanwhile, allegations surfaced—later substantiated through the NRA counsel’s testimony to Senate probers—that a spy and operatives for Russian President Vladimir Putin manipulated the NRA as a conduit to the Republicans. Spy Marina Butina, since convicted, jailed and deported, even posed as a reporter and asked Trump a pro-Putin softball question at a 2016 campaign press conference.

Finally, the Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre of 14 students and three teachers, all Teachers (AFT) members, at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School set off a mass student-led pro-gun control movement which swept the nation. It also swept at least six GOP  lawmakers out of office. Replacing Republicans were dozens of progressives who made gun control a top agenda item.

Through all this,  James carried on her investigation, since the NRA is chartered in New York, and Racine launched his probe. Both lowered the boom on the gun lobby with their lawsuits.

Trump went on national television yesterday urging the NRA to get out of New York and move to Texas as a way to escape the New York charges.

LaPierre and the other three top officials, all of whom he hired, “instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight at the NRA,” the New York AG’s suit says.

“They overrode and evaded internal controls to allow themselves, their families, favored board members, employees and vendors to benefit through reimbursed expenses, related party transactions, excess compensation, side deals, and waste of charitable assets without regard to the NRA’s best interests.”

The NRA board looked the other way—except for North and the whistleblowers whom LaPierre forced out—and the NRA lied to state regulators about the whole mess, too, for years, the New York case says.

“LaPierre routinely abused his authority as Executive Vice President of the NRA to cause the NRA to improperly incur and reimburse LaPierre for expenses that were entirely for LaPierre’s personal benefit and violated NRA policy,” the New York lawsuit’s summary paragraph begins. Reimbursements for gifts to family and cronies alone totaled $1.2 million from 2013-17.

The improper, and under New York charities law, illegal, expenses included “private jet travel for purely personal reasons, trips to the Bahamas to vacation on a yacht owned by the principal of numerous NRA vendors, use of a travel consultant for costly black car services, gifts for favored friends and vendors, lucrative consulting contracts for ex-employees and board members, and excessive security costs.”

And the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre prompted one more enormous deal, which, however, fell through, the New York lawsuit notes.

LaPierre said he received death threats after that carnage. He decided he needed a “safe house” far from the D.C. area. He and his wife eventually found a $6.5 million mansion in a gated community in Westlake, Texas. Their ally from the PR firm set up a shell company, 99% funded by the NRA, as a pass-through to buy the house, but the deal collapsed and LaPierre and the PR man differed on why.

James not only wants to smash the NRA. She also wants all the money back that LaPierre and his cronies looted from it, with interest and penalties tacked on. And she wants the court to bar LaPierre and his pals from ever again serving on other New York-chartered non-profit group boards. No trial dates have been set for the New York and D.C. lawsuits.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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