NY assistant AG says NRA operated as 'Wayne's World' in opening arguments

"This case is about corruption of a charity," AAG Monica Connell told the jury.

ByABC News
January 8, 2024, 6:54 PM

The National Rifle Association operated as “Wayne’s World,” allowing executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and a group of insiders to squander tens of millions of dollars donated to the nonprofit group, a lawyer for the New York Attorney General’s office said Monday during opening statements at the NRA’s civil corruption trial.

“You will hear that the NRA allowed Wayne LaPierre and his group of insiders to operate the NRA as ‘Wayne's World’ for decades,” Assistant Attorney General Monica Connell told the jury. “This case is about corruption of a charity. It's about breaches of trust, and it's about power.”

LaPierre is seated on the defense side of the courtroom, on a bench in the front row behind the lawyers. He agreed on Friday to resign from the NRA, effective at the end of the month.

Wayne LaPierre, former CEO of the National Rifle Association, arrives for jury selection for the trial of the NRA, at New York State Supreme Court in New York City, Jan. 8, 2024.
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

“He didn’t have the NRA’s best interest in mind,” Connell said. “We believe that Mr. LaPierre’s voluntary resignation does not mean you shouldn’t return a verdict against him.”

LaPierre filled executive positions at the NRA with unqualified loyalists in order to maintain control and conceal self-dealing, including co-defendants John Frazer, general counsel, and Woody Phillips, the former chief financial officer, the attorney general’s lawsuit said. The three of them stand accused of breaching the trust of donors by using charitable money for luxury travel, private planes and five-star hotels, along with entering into multi-million dollar contracts with favored vendors willing to pay. The three have all pleaded not guilty.

Connell showed the jury photos of two superyachts LaPierre was given use of and listed Greece, Dubai and other places LaPierre and his wife traveled on what she said was someone else’s dime.

A fourth defendant, Josh Powell, admitted wrongdoing and agreed to settle the allegations with a $100,000 payment in restitution and to testify against the others. Powell also agreed Connell asked the jury to hold the NRA and the three individual defendants liable for breach of fiduciary duty.

The lawsuit also seeks to recoup lost assets and ban LaPierre and the others from serving on any charitable boards in New York. Powell accepted that ban as part of his settlement agreement. The judge said the attorney general’s office could not seek to entirely shut down the NRA.

During the trial, which is expected to last six weeks, the jury will hear from Lt. Col. Oliver North, who LaPierre forced out as NRA president, along with other insiders.

Attorneys for the NRA and the three individual defendants will deliver opening statements Tuesday.

LaPierre previously said the New York AG's lawsuit was an "unconstitutional, premeditated attack aiming to dismantle and destroy the NRA -- the fiercest defender of America's freedom at the ballot box for decades."

In 2020, following the AG’s filing of the suit, an NRA spokesperson said in a statement that at the time LaPierre was "required to travel private for security purposes, in accordance with NRA Board policy," and that he was "asked by the NRA’s former advertising agency to incur certain wardrobe expenses given his enormous public profile."

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