Trips to Botswana, Yachts, and Golf Outings: How Wayne LaPierre Allegedly Grifted the NRA

“It’s clear that the NRA has been failing to carry out its stated mission for many, many years,” New York State Attorney General Letitia James said in a press conference Thursday.
August 6, 2020, 9:55pm
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Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s CEO and executive vp, allegedly used millions of dollars in funds meant for the nonprofit’s daily operations as a personal piggy bank, according to a damning investigation by New York State’s attorney general. Now, the office is calling for the immediate disbanding of America’s most powerful pro-gun lobby.

Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday morning that the state is suing the National Rifle Association after an 18-month investigation, alleging the organization violated laws in New York, where it operates as a charitable membership corporation.

The AG’s office claims it has evidence that current and former NRA executives — including LaPierre, who has served as its chief executive since 1991 — misappropriated the group’s funds for lavish family trips and expensive meals, while others turned a blind eye to the malfeasance and empowered a negligent internal audit committee to cover up the financial misconduct. For years, the organization also failed to accurately track its finances through annual reports as mandated by New York State, accounting for a total loss of at least $64 million in three years, according to James’ office.

“It’s clear that the NRA has been failing to carry out its stated mission for many, many years,” James said during a press conference Thursday. “And instead, has operated as a breeding ground for greed, abuse, and brazen illegality.”

Just hours later, the NRA filed a civil suit of its own against the attorney general’s office, accusing her of defamation and violating its right to free speech.

“The NYAG’s actions are an affront to democracy and freedom. This is an unconstitutional, premeditated attack aiming to dismantle and destroy the NRA — the fiercest defender of America’s freedom at the ballot box for decades,” LaPierre said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “The NRA is well-governed, financially solvent, and committed to good governance. We’re ready for the fight. Bring it on.”

The bombshell findings of the investigation are following through on one of James’ biggest campaign promises to have a deeper look into the NRA’s finances when she ran for office in 2018 following the sudden ousting of the disgraced former attorney general, Eric Schneiderman.

Though she said that the investigation is still ongoing, the attorney general’s office outlined some of LaPierre’s most egregious alleged violations in its complaint. Here are some of the worst they’ve found so far.

Lavish Trips

The complaint outlines that LaPierre took at least eight family trips to and from the Bahamas since June 2015, stopping in Nebraska on most of these trips to pick up and drop off his niece and her relatives along the way. On many of those trips, LaPierre and his family were allegedly allowed to use a 107-foot yacht owned by NRA vendors that have received over $100 million from the gun rights organization in contract services such as mailing, the printing of literature, fundraising, and public relations.

The complaint also says that LaPierre flew privately to meet with these vendors in Beverly Hills on at least 20 different occasions. He stayed at lavish hotels, hosted expensive dinners, and showered vendor figureheads and their families with thousands of dollars worth of gifts during the holidays, all allegedly on the NRA’s dime.

While on location shooting the TV show “Under Wild Skies” in 2013, LaPierre allegedly used NRA funds to reimburse himself and his wife $37,084 for trips to Botswana and Mozambique.

Additionally, between 2009 and 2017, LaPierre spent more than $100,000 in golf club membership fees in the Washington D.C. area, according to the investigation. Though he insists that many of these trips were made to advance business interests, the AG’s office says the NRA has failed to find evidence of the claim.

Traveling in Style

During his more than 30 years as head of the NRA, LaPierre used millions of dollars to fund the use of private airplanes as well as booking luxury black car services, according to the attorney general’s complaint.

Though the group claims that the NRA approved many of these trips for LaPierre’s personal safety, records show that many of the flights between June 2016 and February 2018 were not approved by the NRA board and were used to get LaPierre’s daughter, his wife Susan, and his niece as well as low-level NRA employees around the country. The cost of each flight range from $8,800 to $107,000. In the last two years alone, the group allegedly spent more than $3.6 million on black car services around the country.

Beefed-Up Security

Between 2013 and 2018, LaPierre allegedly funded personal and home security for himself and his family using NRA money. Items include an armored vehicle and a personal security detail.

The complaint also outlines the near purchase of a $6.5 million “safe house” in Dallas for his wife to use on occasion. According to the complaint, the home was to be purchased in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, with LaPierre claiming that he and his family had to flee the D.C. area because of death threats.

The home was to be outfitted with $70,000 worth of home improvements to increase the residence’s safety, though the sale fell through for reasons LaPierre has yet to explain.

Lofty Retirement Plans

To ensure that the money flow would never stop, LaPierre allegedly secured a post-employment contract with the NRA for payments of at least $1 million a year after he retires or is voted out by his peers. The AG’s report found that neither the first or second vice president signed off on the plan, nor did any of the NRA’s executive boards or committees. LaPierre testified that he did not know whether his post-employment contract was approved.

According to the complaint, he wasn’t the only one set up to enjoy an NRA-funded retirement. He also allegedly used NRA cash to fund lucrative consulting contracts worth millions for retired and ex-employees without the board’s approval, ensuring that they, too, could enjoy a slice of the nonprofit’s finances long after they exited.

Cover: National Rifle Association Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks at Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)