Longtime NRA chief Wayne LaPierre testifies about extensive spending and jet charters at New York civil trial

Wayne LaPierre, who over the course of three decades became the face of the US gun rights movement, testified at a civil corruption case Friday that the National Rifle Association paid for his travel on private jets to the Bahamas, destinations in Europe and Asia, and to drop off his niece and family in Nebraska, on several occasions.

The NRA had paid for his travel on private jets since 2012, LaPierre testified before a jury in New York, noting that he occasionally inquired about travel costs from his longtime travel agent but said he was generally not aware of flight costs.

LaPierre’s appearance on the stand comes in the final days of his tenure as head of one of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups. His testimony is a highlight of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ case alleging the NRA violated laws for non-profit groups, committed tax fraud and spent millions on the personal use of its leaders.

Invoices revealed LaPierre chartered flights from Madison, Wisconsin, to Nebraska for around $8,000, and Las Vegas, Nevada, to Nebraska for around $15,000, according to the attorney general’s office. In one instance, LaPierre authorized an approximately $27,000 private flight from Dallas to Orlando in July 2017, because his commercial flight was delayed.

LaPierre also used private jets to take his niece and her family to Nebraska, he testified. “Those flights were billed to NRA?” asked New York Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Conley. “Yes,” LaPierre said. He also testified that he booked some private flights for others even when he was not a passenger.

LaPierre also testified that he used NRA funds to pay for the wedding of his personal assistant’s son.

The NRA executive vice president and CEO stepped down earlier this month, effective January 31. He cited health reasons.

The state attorney general filed a lawsuit in 2020 to dissolve the NRA amid the corruption allegations. The lawsuit names LaPierre, general counsel and secretary John Frazer, and former chief financial officer Wilson “Woody” Phillips.

James said earlier this month that another defendant, former NRA chief of staff and executive director of general operations Josh Powell, reached a $100,000 settlement with her office. As part of the agreement, Powell admitted to the allegations of wrongdoing.

William A. Brewer III, an attorney representing the NRA, in a statement to CNN after LaPierre stepped down, said it is “a telling sign that the NYAG’s case relies so heavily on disgruntled former employees, terminated vendors, and other castoffs from the NRA’s past who are no longer affiliated with the Association.”

“The NRA lives in the present, and its case relies on something much more powerful: facts, evidence and a demonstrated commitment to good governance,” he added.

Trips to Europe, Abu Dhabi, and India

Conley asked LaPierre about his relationship with David and Laura McKenzie, owners of Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s former advertising firm. LaPierre testified he knew McKenzie before the 1990s. “We have business, but I consider him a friend,” he said.

LaPierre said he and his family stayed on a yacht in the Bahamas owned by the McKenzies, and also vacationed with them in Europe, including Montenegro and other locations in the Adriatic Sea. The McKenzies also covered lodging and travel costs for a trip to Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, and New Delhi, LaPierre testified.

The yacht had a private chef, Jet Skis, and other amenities. Multiple members of LaPierre’s family, including his wife, his sister’s family and his niece’s family were on some trips, LaPierre testified.

LaPierre never paid the McKenzies for the trips. They covered everything, he testified. He said the NRA paid for flights to the Bahamas. A flight invoice to the Bahamas shared in court revealed a $37,000 expense.

“You didn’t disclose the trips to Bahamas to NRA?” Conley asked.

“Yes,” LaPierre said.

“Didn’t get board approval correct?” Conley asked.

“No, I didn’t.”

Conley displayed photos of LaPierre in India in 2017 and asked if he had approval from the NRA for the trip, if he disclosed the trip, or if he had the board’s approval. LaPierre replied “No” to every question.

At one point, Conley asked, “Travel wasn’t cheap right?”

“No,” LaPierre replied.

“For someone who heads a 5014C nonprofit organization you never asked how much the flights cost?” Conley asked.

“I didn’t, I was doing my job,” LaPierre answered.

LaPierre testified that the NRA filed for bankruptcy in 2021 because he thought the organization was in jeopardy of dissolution because of the New York attorney general’s case.

LaPierre said that the organization was wary that James “would try to go to a judge and try to put the NRA under a receivership which would take control of the NRA from the NRA,” he testified.

“She had been very clear during her campaign she considered the NRA a terrorist organization,” he added.

LaPierre testified that he made the decision to file for bankruptcy without consulting any of the organization’s salaried officers, board members or top lawyer.

LaPierre’s testimony continues on Monday.

James’ lawsuit accuses the NRA of violating multiple laws, including false reporting of annual filings with the IRS and New York’s charities bureau, improperly documenting expenses, improper wage and income tax reporting and excessively paying people for work for which they were not qualified.

Many of the charges stem from the NRA’s status as a non-profit, which has strict state and federal rules governing spending. The state alleges that, among other things, LaPierre illegally used NRA funds for personal travel expenses.

“For nearly three decades, Wayne LaPierre has served as the chief executive officer of the NRA and has exploited the organization for his financial benefit, and the benefit of a close circle of NRA staff, board members, and vendors,” the 2020 complaint said.

The complaint accuses current and former NRA leadership of instituting “a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight” benefiting themselves, family, friends and favored vendors, leading the organization to lose more than $63 million over three years.

Another high-profile witness, former NRA President Oliver North, testified earlier this week that he was ousted after raising concerns about corruption.

North, who gained national attention as a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, served as NRA president for less than a year, between 2018 and 2019.

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