New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that her office has filed a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association and its leadership, including Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, looking to dissolve the organization.
James accused the organization of having "a culture of self-dealing," taking millions of dollars for personal use and granting contracts that benefited leaders' family and associates.
"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 163-page complaint states.
The Washington, D.C. Attorney General's office also sued the NRA on Thursday based on similar allegations.
"Charitable organizations function as public trusts — and District law requires them to use their funds to benefit the public, not to support political campaigns, lobbying, or private interests," Attorney General Karl Racine said.
The New York lawsuit alleges that LaPierre, former chief of staff Joshua Powell, former CFO Wilson “Woody” Phillips, and general counsel John Frazer, engaged in self-dealing and ignored conflicts of interest in violation of NRA policy. Alleged conflicts included granting millions of dollars worth of contracts to companies like information technology firm HomeTelos, whose CEO had a personal relationship with Phillips that was not disclosed at the time.
This was later reported by staff members of Phillips, who acted as whistleblowers in 2018, the complaint says.
The lawsuit also details personal expenses for which LaPierre was allegedly reimbursed by the NRA. These included private air travel for him and his family and gifts to friends, on top of millions of dollars for personal and home security. The lawsuit also claims that LaPierre hired Phillips, Powell, and Frazer "despite their lack of skills or experience for their respective roles and responsibilities."
Any attempts to push back against LaPierre, the complaint alleges, "were quashed and ignored." For example, the complaint alleges that after the NRA President learned about whistleblower complaints and began looking into NRA governance, LaPierre "retaliated" against him by withdrawing his support for renomination. The president eventually resigned.
Additionally, the complaint alleges that the NRA filed false reportings with the New York Attorney General's office and the IRS, specifically regarding compensation to LaPierre, Phillips, Powell, and Frazer.
In addition to asking for the organization to be dissolved, James' office seeks to have LaPierre and Frazer removed from their positions, and a declaration from the court saying "that directors or members in control of the NRA have looted or wasted the NRA’s charitable assets, have perpetuated the corporation solely for their personal benefit, or have otherwise acted in an illegal, oppressive or fraudulent manner[.]"
"The NRA's influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets," James said in a statement. "The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organization is above the law."
NRA President Carolyn Meadows called the lawsuit "a baseless, premeditated attack," claiming it targeted not just the NRA, but the constitutional rights it defends.
"You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle," Meadows said in a statement. "It’s a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda. This has been a power grab by a political opportunist – a desperate move that is part of a rank political vendetta. Our members won’t be intimidated or bullied in their defense of political and constitutional freedom.”
Meadows added that the NRA "will not shrink from this fight – we will confront it and prevail.”
To that end, the NRA countersued James, seeking a court declaration that they are following state not-for-profit law and alleging that The New York Attorney General is targeting the organization for its political positions, violating its free speech rights.
"The New York Democratic Party seeks to harass, defund and dismantle the NRA because of what it believes and what it says," the lawsuit says. "Only this Court can stop it."