Wayne LaPierre, the former chief executive of the US gun lobby group National Rifle Association (NRA), has been accused of pilfering millions of dollars from the organisation for his personal benefit, the prosecutors said on the first day of a civil trial in Manhattan.
Monica Connell, New York’s assistant attorney general made the claim during the opening statements. Apart from LaPierre, two other NRA leaders are also being investigated for squandering the money on luxury travel and other perks.
“The NRA allowed Wayne LaPierre and his group of insiders to operate the NRA as ‘Wayne’s World’ for decades’. Wayne LaPierre and his friends effectively suppressed the voice of anyone who challenged his leadership,” said Connell.
“This case is about corruption in a charity. It’s about breaches of trust, it’s about power. People take their hard-earned money and donate it to charities they believe in,” she added.
LaPierre announced his resignation last Friday (Jan 5) for unstated health reasons. His lawyer later elaborated that LaPierre suffers from chronic Lyme disease.
“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,” he wrote in a post.
The NRA is hoping to dodge the penalties from the corruption trial by arguing that LaPierre’s resignation proved that there was no longer ongoing wrongdoing at the gun lobby. Additionally, NRA has dubbed itself as the victim of “former rogue officers”.
However, the prosecutors are unmoved by the argument put forth by NRA. According to Attorney General Letitia James, the resignation’s timing, three days before the opening statements, suggests it was engineered to gain an advantage at the trial.
James has demanded that LaPierre, who used the NRA coffers as a “piggy bank”, reimburse the organisation for years of charging them for private jet travel, trips to the Bahamas, black car services, and gifts for friends and vendors.
She added that LaPierre, alongside other NRA leaders, oversaw a toxic working environment for decades where dissent was stifled and loyalists were awarded excessive pay hikes.
LaPierre and his fellow defendants were in the courtroom’s front-row seat on the opening day of the trial which is expected to last up to six weeks.
(With inputs from agencies)