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Yacht-see! Wayne LaPierre takes witness stand as NRA corruption-trial jury views photos of luxury ships he enjoyed on vendor's dime.

Wayne LaPierre arrives for testimony in NRA civil corruption trial in New York.
Wayne LaPierre arrives for testimony in NRA civil corruption trial in New York.Brendan McDermid/Reuters
  • Wayne LaPierre took the stand Friday in the NRA corruption trial in New York.

  • A Manhattan jury viewed photos of yachts NY officials say an NRA vendor corruptly loaned LaPierre.

  • The gun-lobby leader claims he didn't report the yachts because the vendor was also his "friend."

It was cold and drizzly in New York on Friday, but when Wayne LaPierre took the witness stand in the NRA corruption trial, his jury was treated to pictures of sunshine-dappled luxury yachts and tales of pricey Bahamas getaways.

There were photographs of yacht staterooms, yacht dining suites, and spacious yacht jacuzzis, all displayed on large screens in the Manhattan civil courtroom where the civil trial is now in its third week.

LaPierre — the gun lobby's soon-to-retire leader of three decades — followed along from the witness stand, flipping through hard-copy photographs of throw-pillow-strewn decks and interiors from a five-inch-thick binder of evidence against him.

A photo of the deck of the yacht Illusions shown at the NRA civil corruption trial in New York.
A photo of the deck of the yacht "Illusions," shown at the NRA civil corruption trial in New York.YachtCharterFleet.com

"You would both stay in staterooms?" LaPierre was asked in the morning by Jonathan Conley, an assistant New York attorney general.

"Yes," LaPierre answered, referring to himself and his wife, Susan.

"You didn't disclose these trips to the board of the NRA in advance, correct?" Conley asked.

"Yes," LaPierre easily agreed.

NRA leader Wayne LaPierre arrives at his civil corruption trial in New York.
NRA leader Wayne LaPierre arrives at his civil corruption trial in New York.Brendan McDermid/Reuters

LaPierre insists he didn't need to disclose the many times that vendor David McKenzie essentially turned over the keys to his fully-staffed motor yachts so that the gun-lobby leader and his family could cruise the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the Aegean seas.

NRA bylaws require that LaPierre report any gift from a vendor "in excess of $300" — language that was also displayed for jurors on the overhead screens.

But that didn't matter, LaPierre said Friday from the stand.

That's because McKenzie and his wife Laura were his friends, he explained.

And in the world view of the LaPierre corruption-trial defense, when a vendor who is also a very good friend loans you a boat, that boat isn't a gift.

The boat's not even a gift, the defense has reasoned, if the friend's companies — Membership Marketing Partners and Associated Television International — received hundreds of millions of dollars in NRA business.

On Friday morning — with LaPierre acting as a terse, subpoena-mandated tour guide — the jury was shown photos of the McKenzies' 108-foot yacht "Illusions."

A photo of the yacht "Illusions," shown to jurors in the NRA civil corruption trial in New York.
A photo of the yacht "Illusions," shown to jurors in the NRA civil corruption trial in New York.YachtCharterFleet.com

"You and your family would stay on the yacht, correct?" LaPierre was asked of his frequent cruises to the Bahamas on the vessel during the summer months of the twenty-teens.

"And the chef would cook you meals?" LaPierre was asked.

"Not all the time," he answered.

The "Illusions" happens to be the same yacht where LaPierre controversially took refuge after the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.

"The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun," LaPierre infamously told reporters in a statement issued from "Illusions."

LaPierre also told reporters that he'd received death threats in Sandy Hook's wake, and was using "Illusions" as a "secure location."

In the current civil trial, LaPierre is arguing that much of his time sailing on yachts and flying on private planes was part of his job — either to keep him safe, or to allow him access to well-heeled would-be donors.

"Mr. LaPierre, do you recognize People's Exhibit 4852?" the assistant attorney general asked later Friday morning, directing the gun-lobby boss to page through the binder until he found the tab including several photographs of the larger of the two McKenzie yachts.

"That is the boat 'Grand Illusion,'" LaPierre answered of the 145-footer.

A photo of the deck of the yacht "Grand Illusion," shown to jurors in the NRA corruption trial in New York.
A photo of the deck of the yacht "Grand Illusion," shown to jurors in the NRA corruption trial in New York.YachtCharterFleet.com

LaPierre said he and his wife used that larger yacht for European cruises.

"That was really generous of the McKenzies, wasn't it," Conley asked.

"Yes," LaPierre answered. "They were friends."

A photo of the "Grand Illusion" shown to jurors in the NRA corruption trial in New York.
A photo of the "Grand Illusion" shown to jurors in the NRA corruption trial in New York.YachtCharterFleet.com

LaPierre was able to continue testifying for part of Friday afternoon despite his defense team's concerns that his chronic Lyme disease would make him too fatigued to address jurors in day-long testimony.

He's due back on the stand Monday.

"Wayne LaPierre's testimony only further cements his legacy as one of corruption and mismanagement," said Nick Suplina of the group Everytown for Gun Safety.

"NRA leaders can try to run from its years of deception, decadence, and alleged self-dealing, but they can't hide — not from the American people who have rejected the NRA's agenda, or from the law. LaPierre will not only be remembered for corruption, but also for death and destruction as the face of an industry that fueled our gun violence crisis."

The state attorney general, Letitia James, has accused LaPierre of millions of dollars in self-dealing while at the helm of the NRA, including accepting free yacht trips from McKenzie.

On Friday, jurors also saw invoices for a half-dozen expensive private jet travel for LaPierre and his friends and family members.

The invoice for one such flight, from Dallas to Orlando in 2017, cost the NRA nearly $27,000.

The attorney general case against the NRA, LaPierre, and two other longtime gun-lobby execs is expected to conclude on Tuesday and be followed by the defense teams' presentations of evidence.

The trial is expected to run through mid-February.

"Wayne LaPierre took the stand with a seemingly clear conscience even though he has the blood of nearly every American who died by gun violence during his reign of terror on his hands," Kris Brown, president of the gun-control group Brady, said Friday.

"Wayne LaPierre took the stand with a seemingly clear conscience even though he has the blood of nearly every American who died by gun violence during his reign of terror on his hands," Brown added.

"Wayne showed no remorse as he admitted to feathering his elitist nest from his supposed non-profit, yet all the money sowed by the NRA came from the Big Lie he has been pedaling for decades."

The AG's office is hoping the jury finds the defendants liable for violating state laws governing not-for-profits.

If that happens, a separate non-jury trial, presided over by New York Supreme Court Justice Joel Cohen, will determine if LaPierre and his co-defendants are permanently barred from leadership roles in the NRA or in any New York not-for-profit.

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