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Private Planes for Family: NRA Spending That Drew Scrutiny

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 8/7/2020 Erik Larson
Wayne LaPierre wearing a suit and tie © Bloomberg Wayne LaPierre

(Bloomberg) -- Wayne LaPierre used National Rifle Association funds for private jets to take his family members all over the U.S., including eight Bahamas vacations and at least one trip to provide a babysitter for his niece’s child during a Las Vegas convention.

Those are just a few of the allegedly improper expenses New York Attorney General Letitia James detailed in a sprawling lawsuit Thursday that portrayed the NRA as a corrupt nonprofit operated for years as a piggy bank for top officials.

The suit claims LaPierre and current and former NRA executives used millions of dollars donated to the gun-rights group by supporters to finance luxury lifestyles and enrich friends and family. Their actions caused losses of more than $64 million in the last three years alone, James said.

The NRA strenuously denied the allegations, saying the group is the victim of a political witch hunt led by an anti-gun Democrat. As part of her lawsuit, James is seeking dissolution of the organization.

“We will aggressively defend this organization and its members,” NRA lawyer William Brewer said in an emailed statement. “The investigation reveals the NYAG has aligned herself with disgraced vendors and former partners who would support a contrived narrative for personal gain.”

New York authorities say otherwise. Below are some of the state’s claims against LaPierre; former NRA treasurer and chief financial officer, Wilson “Woody” Phillips; the former chief of staff and executive director of general operations, Joshua Powell; and Corporate Secretary and General Counsel John Frazer.

LaPierre:

Since June 2015, he and his family took flights on private planes to the Bahamas, including stops in Nebraska to pick up his niece, that cost the NRA more than $500,000One some of those trips, he stayed on a 108-foot yacht owned by MMP Principal, an NRA contractor that was paid more than $60 million since 2014 for fundraising, printing and mailing servicesLaPierre also authorized private flights for his wife, extended family and others, even when he wasn’t a passenger, that cost the NRA more than $1 million from May 2015 to April 2018In January 2017, he authorized a private flight for his niece’s husband to fly from North Platte, Nebraska, to Las Vegas so he could babysit the couple’s child while the niece worked a Safari Club conventionFor years, the NRA has paid LaPierre’s travel consultant $19,000 a month to handle his personal arrangements and spent hundreds of thousands on luxury car services for him and othersHe spent several million dollars each year on private security for himself and his family without proper oversightLaPierre secured a post-employment contract with the NRA, without board approval, valued at more than $17 millionSecured lucrative consulting contracts for ex-employees and board members worth millions.

Phillips:

Lied on financial disclosure forms and set up a $1.4 million deal with a technology company run by his girlfriendBefore his retirement, secured a $1.8 million contract to provide $30,000 a month for consulting services to the new treasurer, even though the new treasurer knew nothing about this contract and says he never got such consultingOversaw financial practices that allowed executives to rack up entertainment and travel expenses billed to the NRA through its longtime ad agency, Ackerman McQueenFailed to properly respond to whistleblower complaints about alleged fiscal improprieties

Powell:

Abused the NRA’s policy on housing and relocation reimbursements by pocketing at least $100,000 more than NRA rules allowAsked an NRA vendor to pay his father as a photographer, resulting in more than $90,000 in compensation passing through the NRAReceived huge salary increases almost immediately after starting his position, including a doubling to $500,000 a year just one month after being hired

Frazer:

Failed to comply with board governance procedures or advise others of necessary changesFailed to ensure that financial transactions were addressed by NRA officers and directorsFailed to enforce the NRA’s conflict-of-interest policyFailed to ensure the NRA was in compliance with whistleblower lawsCertified false or misleading annual statements

Efforts to reach Phillips and Powell, who are no longer with the NRA, were unsuccessful.

“The truth is, the transactions in question have been reviewed, vetted and approved -- and every dollar spent by the NRA has been in furtherance of its mission to defend constitutional freedom,” NRA lawyer Brewer said. “End of story.”

(Updates with details of expenditures.)

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©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


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