During questioning on the third day of the federal bankruptcy hearing, LaPierre defended his leadership of the Weapons Protection Group and the benefits he and his family received from NRA executors.
But his testimony undermined the arguments of NRA lawyers this week that LaPierre has effectively cleared up ethical and managerial issues since 2018, when the organization was first warned by New York government officials of possible poor fiscal governance.
Last year, New York City Attorney Leticia James (D) sued the NRA, alleging that LaPierre and three other senior officials used the group’s resources for personal gain. It seeks to disband the organization.
In his testimony Wednesday, LaPierre acknowledged – as before other NRA officials – that the full council and the general counsel had not been informed in advance of the bankruptcy plan.
And he regretted not disclosing internally the free trips he took on a yacht owned by David Mackenzie, a California film producer linked to companies for which prosecutors said they had received tens of millions of dollars in contracts over the years from the NRA.
“I believe this was one of the mistakes I made when I did not list them,” in revealing a conflict of interest of the NRA, LaPierre said.
He said yacht trips were necessary for business reasons and because they provided a safe retreat from the physical threats he received after the mass shootings.
During interrogation, LaPierre admitted that he had not filled in the forms for announcing the conflict of interests of the National Revenue Agency for several years. He finally did so this week, according to a document presented as part of the hearing.
Even before the 71-year-old NRA chief appeared on the stand, his actions had been in the spotlight since the initial moments of the hearing, which will determine whether the arms protection group is allowed to seek protection against bankruptcy.
New York prosecutors say LaPierre misdirected the organization to bankruptcy as a way to avoid the widespread lawsuit filed last year.
The suit prompted the NRA to announce plans to move from New York, where it had been chartered since 1871, to Texas. The organization has also sought protection against bankruptcy, saying its finances are sound, but that action is needed to protect itself from what employees describe as a politically motivated investigation.
“We filed for bankruptcy in order to seek fair, legal conditions for a game where the NRA can grow and prosper. . . “unlike what we think has become a toxic, politicized, gun government in New York State,” LaPierre said in response to questions from James G. Sheehan, head of the New York Attorney’s Office.
Speaking via WebEx video conference, LaPierre, dressed in a dark suit and blue tie and sitting in front of the shelves, confirmed that he used the phrase “New York dump” in a news release describing the incentive to file for bankruptcy.
James’ lawyers claim that the actions of NRA employees have threatened the organization.
“If the NRA is facing an existential bankruptcy crisis, it is a crisis caused by LaPierre and its activists and their choices,” said Monica Connell, assistant prosecutor in New York, arguing that LaPierre had hidden the bankruptcy plan from the NRA council. and other senior officials until the petition for bankruptcy was filed in January.
The investigation in New York began in 2019, when internal conflicts over NRA expenditures erupted dramatically in the public sphere. The group’s president, Oliver North, was ousted after saying he was trying to raise concerns about the organization’s costs. His exit was followed by the NRA’s biggest lobbyist, Christopher W. Cox, among other officials.
Amid the turmoil, numerous allegations of lavish spending by power plant employees were reported by The Washington Post and other news organizations, including costumes purchased by LaPierre at a clothing boutique in Beverly Hills and major private trips, and tens of millions of dollars. which flowed to the NRA’s external lawyer.
During Wednesday’s hearing, LaPierre said the costumes were purchased at the suggestion of the NRA’s longtime advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen, which is challenging the bankruptcy. Asked if the costumes purchased by Ackerman were a gift, LaPierre said Wednesday, “No. They were work, work wardrobe. “
The NRA acknowledged in a tax return last year that current and former executives – including LaPierre – had used the group’s non-profit resources for personal gain. LaPierre “corrected” the financial gaps by reimbursing the NRA, the statement said.
In addition to LaPierre, the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit named Wilson “Woody” Phillips, a former cashier and chief financial officer of the NRA; Joshua Powell, former chief of staff and chief operating officer; and John Fraser, corporate secretary and general counsel, who spends hours at the booth on Tuesdays and Wednesdays before LaPierre testifies.
James said the actions of these top managers had contributed to the loss of more than $ 64 million in three years as they became richer and “replaced and avoided internal control.” . . without taking into account the best interest of the NRA ”, according to the claim.
LaPierre and other officials denied James’ allegations.
The Attorney General of New York and Ackerman McQueen asked the judge to reject the organization’s petition for bankruptcy, saying it was filed to avoid accountability in court.
“LaPierre’s only goal is to stick to power,” Connol said on Monday. She said LaPierre’s private consultant would testify in the coming days, showing that she had been instructed to cover up invoices showing LaPierre’s flights to the Bahamas, where he went on annual trips with his family.
While in the Bahamas, the NRA chief remained on McKenzie’s Illusions yacht, LaPierre admitted on Wednesday. He also stayed as a guest at Mackenzie in a Bahamas resort, where he said he was doing business with potential celebrity donors.
According to the Wall Street Journal, McKenzie is affiliated with Partnership Partners Partners, a major supplier to the NRA. The company received $ 11.5 million to raise funds in 2019, according to the NRA’s tax return.
McKenzie is linked to other NRA providers, including Associated Television International Inc., which produces a show called “Criminal Strike” for the NRA. Mackenzie did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the judge allows the NRA to seek bankruptcy, the office of James and Ackerman McQueen have asked the court to appoint a trustee to run the organization, replacing LaPierre and his team.
During the opening arguments in the hearing, NRA lawyer Greg Garman called LaPierre an “indispensable asset”, citing his ability to raise funds and protect his management.
“The trustee is actually a death sentence,” Garman said in response to the request, as LaPierre raises $ 100 million a year for the 150-year-old organization.
More broadly, he claims that LaPierre has introduced stricter fiscal and supervisory policies.
LaPierre is the most prominent figure in the group, which has led the NRA’s aggressive counter-reactions to efforts to seek control of the weapon after the mass shootings.
After the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, LaPierre rejected calls for regulation, saying, “The only thing stopping the bad guy with a gun is the good guy with a gun.”
His response drew criticism from Newtown’s families and Democrats, but brought revenue and a wave of new members to the organization. At the time, the NRA was thought to be blocking the implementation of the proposed weapons regulations.