Wayne LaPierre, the longtime CEO and executive vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), announced he would be stepping down on Friday – just days before he is set to go to trial against New York Attorney General Letitia James.
In a press release from the NRA, Mr LaPierre said he was resigning from the organisation due to “health reasons”.
“I’ve been a card-carrying member of this organization for most of my adult life, and I will never stop supporting the NRA and its fight to defend Second Amendment freedom. My passion for our cause burns as deeply as ever,” Mr LaPierre said.
Mr LaPierre first stepped into the role of CEO and executive vice president in 1991. His resignation will take effect on 31 January.
The news arrived three days before he is expected to appear in New York superior court for the start of Ms James’ civil corruption trial against him, the NRA as well as three other former or current members of the gun advocacy nonprofit.
Ms James was seeking to remove Mr LaPierre from his leadership position for alleged financial improprieties. Her lawsuit, initially filed in 2020, alleges Mr LaPierre “routinely abused his authority” so the NRA could pay for or reimburse him for personal trips on yachts, private jets, black-car service as well as expensive gifts to friends, employees or vendors – among other allegations.
She alleges that Mr LaPierre “abused” his access to the budget to fund lucrative consulting contracts for NRA insiders like former employees or board members and that Mr Phillips “failed as a Treasurer” to adhere to internal finance controls, allowing for misuse to occur.
In its press release, the NRA said it will continue to defend itself against the allegations and claimed it is “well-known” that Ms James “vowed to pursue the NRA when she was a candidate for office.”
William Brewer, the NRA’s lead lawyer, told The New York Times that the organisation has taken steps to address corporate practices and undermined Ms James’ case by saying the case “is about tales from the crypt.”
Nearly three and a half years after filing an initial suit against the gun advocacy nonprofit, Ms James is seeking to hold the NRA and the four defendants, former CEO Mr LaPierre, General Counsel John Frazer, former CFO Wilson Phillips and former chief of staff Josh Powell, responsible for alleged financial improprieties.
In the lengthy complaint, Ms James alleges that the individuals misused charitable assets, manipulated internal controls and misreported information in annual reports to the AG.
The lawsuit alleges that Mr Powell, who served as chief of staff until 2018 when he notably left the NRA on bitter terms, received excessive benefits and misused spending limits.
Ms James also claims that Mr Frazer failed to implement changes that complied with new governance requirements and made false or misleading statements on the NRA’s IRS forms.
Initially, Ms James filed the lawsuit seeking to have the NRA dissolved but Judge Joel Cohen, the state Supreme Court Justice overseeing the case, rejected that.
Now, she’s seeking to implement an independent monitor to oversee the organisations’ governance as well as impose financial penalties against the defendants.
In the years since the initial filing, the NRA has fought tooth and nail to create delays in the case, making no less than 85 motions. Mr LaPierre has overseen a series of changes to the organisation as they face the lawsuit among others.
In 2021, NRA filed for bankruptcy seeking to incorporate in Texas – something Ms James alleged was done so the defendants could “evade” investigating the allegations as well as avoiding overseeing the work of the NRA’s external audit firm.
However, a federal bankruptcy judge dismissed the case, claiming the organisation was using the bankruptcy case “to address a regulatory enforcement problem, not a financial one.”
Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s executive and head of general operations, will serve as interim CEO and executive vice president.
Mr LaPierre said he was “proud of the NRA’s advocacy in New York” and is confident Mr Arulanandam “knows how to help the NRA win.”
The trial is slated to begin on Monday at 9.30am EST before Judge Cohen.