New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ long-running lawsuit against the National Rifle Association (NRA) and three of its current or former executives is headed to trial on Monday in what is expected to be a tense six-to-eight-week battle.
It’s been nearly three and a half years since Ms James filed a complaint against the gun advocacy group, seeking to hold it and its leaders responsible for alleged financial improprieties.
The case has changed since its initial filing, including the relief sought and some of the current defendants, but Ms James remains adamant in holding accountable those responsible for allegedly misusing charitable assets, manipulating internal controls, and misreporting information in annual reports – among other allegations.
The trial beginning Monday afternoon is seeking to hold the NRA and its former CEO Wayne LaPierre, general counsel John Frazer and former CFO Wilson Phillips responsible for alleged financial improprieties.
The original complaint also named former chief of staff, Josh Powell, but Ms James and Mr Powell reached a settlement agreement last week.
The attorney general is seeking to implement an independent monitor to oversee the organisation’s governance as well as impose financial penalties against the defendants. The attorney general also sought to remove Mr LaPierre from his three-decade-long reign as the NRA’s CEO and executive vice president. However, Mr LaPierre resigned from his position as chief on Friday, citing health reasons.
Ahead of Monday’s trial, here’s everything to know.
What are the allegations?
The NRA executives are accused of improperly using charitable finances to benefit themselves or others.
Ms James alleges that, for years, Mr LaPierre “routinely abused his authority” so the NRA could pay for or reimburse him for personal trips on yachts, private jets, and a black-car service, as well as expensive gifts to friends, employees, or vendors.
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.
The lawsuit also 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.
Additionally, the lawsuit claims that Mr Frazer failed to implement governance requirements in the company and made false or misleading statements on the NRA’s IRS forms.
What is Ms James seeking?
Initially, Ms James filed the lawsuit to have the NRA dissolved, but Judge Joel Cohen, the state Supreme Court Justice overseeing the case, rejected that.
Now, the attorney general wants to implement an independent monitor to oversee the organisation’s governance, prevent the defendants from serving on any nonprofit or charity board in New York, and force the defendants to pay restitution back to the NRA.
Mr Powell has already admitted to wrongdoing by misusing charitable funds and failing to uphold his fiduciary responsibility. Part of his settlement agreement includes paying $100,000 in restitution.
What has happened so far?
In the years since the lawsuit began, the NRA has fought tooth and nail to create delays in the case and make motions for dismal.
The organisation filed for bankruptcy in 2021, seeking to incorporate in Texas – something Ms James alleges was done so the defendants could “evade” investigating the allegations and avoid 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.”
Additionally, the defendants have filed more than 85 motions in the case – much to the notable irritation of Judge Cohen.
The organisation says it is facing “adverse actions by government officials… in large part because of their antipathy towards the NRA and Second Amendment advocacy”.
In a press release announcing Mr LaPierre’s resignation, the NRA reiterated their insinuations that Ms James’ lawsuit is politically motivated by claiming 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.”
The trial will begin Monday afternoon before Judge Cohen and a jury.