New York Attorney General Letitia James on Thursday sued the National Rifle Association (NRA), seeking to put the powerful gun advocacy organization out of business over claims that upper-level executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts for associates and other questionable expenditures.
James’ lawsuit, filed in a state court in New York City, highlighted misspending and self-dealing claims that have roiled the NRA and its longtime leader, Wayne LaPierre, in recent years — from hair and makeup for his wife to a US$17 million post-employment contract for himself.
“It’s clear that the NRA has been failing to carry out its stated mission for many, many years and instead has operated as a breeding ground for greed, abuse and brazen illegality,” she told a news conference. “Enough was enough. We needed to step in and dissolve this corporation.”
In a statement, NRA president Carolyn Meadows labeled James a “political opportunist” pursuing a “rank vendetta” with an attack on its members’ Second Amendment rights.
“You could have set your watch by it: The investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle,” said Meadows, who announced a countersuit in federal court in Albany, New York, that could set the stage for a drawn-out legal battle lasting well past November’s US presidential election.
The lawsuit made only civil claims, but James said that the investigation is ongoing and that any criminal activity discovered would be referred to prosecutors and the US Internal Revenue Service.
The NRA’s financial troubles were long cloaked by loyal lieutenants, but became public as deficits piled up, James said.
The organization went from a nearly US$28 million surplus in 2015 to a US$36 million deficit in 2018.
Although headquartered in Virginia, the NRA was chartered as a nonprofit in New York in 1871 and is incorporated in the state.
The lawsuit named LaPierre — the NRA’s CEO — and three other current and former executives as defendants.
It said that the 70-year-old LaPierre, who has been in charge of day-to-day operations since 1991, spent NRA money on travel consultants, including luxury vehicle services and private jet flights for himself and his family, including more than US$500,000 on eight trips to the Bahamas over a three-year span.
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