MANHATTAN (CN) — Employing the same move that helped shutter the Trump Foundation, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit Thursday to dissolve the National Rifle Association.
“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 this morning. “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.”
Spanning a novel-length 163 pages, the lawsuit accuses four NRA executives of looting the nonprofit that has operated in New York since 1871.
“The central figure behind this scheme was none other than Wayne LaPierre,” James told reporters at a press conference this morning, referring the NRA’s chief executive. “Mr. LaPierre exploited the organization for his and his family’s financial benefit.”
Itemizing private jet trips to the tropics and African safaris — all allegedly on the donors’ dime — James said LaPierre used the NRA as his “personal piggy bank.”
“In the last five years, LaPierre and his family have visited the Bahamas by private air charter on at least eight occasions, at a cost of more than $500,000 to the NRA,” the complaint states. “On many of those trips, LaPierre and his family were gifted the use of a 107-foot yacht owned by an NRA vendor.
“LaPierre received hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from another NRA vendor in the form of complimentary safaris in Africa and other world-wide locations for himself and his spouse,” it continues.
James even notes how the TV hunting show “Under Wild Skies” documented several of these free trips before its producers sued the NRA last September.
“LaPierre and his wife regularly appeared in episodes of Under Wild Skies, traveling to and participating in big game hunts in the United States, Botswana, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Argentina, and Uruguay,” New York’s complaint states. “The expenses associated with these trips — including professional hunter costs, camps, chartered in-continent travel, food and beverages, hunting licenses, trophy fees, and taxidermy — were incurred by UWS.”
In the New York case, the NRA and LaPierre are joined as defendants by the NRA’s former treasurer and chief financial officer Wilson “Woody” Phillips, chief of staff and the executive vice president of operations Joshua Powell, and general counsel Joshua Frazer.
The complaint says Phillips tripled his salary in less than three years, despite allegations of abusive and illegal conduct, and Frazier failed during his brief 18-month tenure to enforce whistleblower protections and conflict-of-interest policies.
“Efforts to question or challenge LaPierre’s leadership were quashed or ignored,” the complaint states. “LaPierre retaliated against the NRA president after personally lobbying him to take on the position. LaPierre withdrew his critical support after the president began to independently assess the governance of the NRA upon learning of complaints by whistleblowers, senior staff and donors.”
This appears to be a reference to Oliver North, whom the NRA accused last year of planning a “failed coup attempt” with their longtime public relations firm Ackerman McQueen, an entity labeled by the attorney general as a pass-through for hiding improper expenditure and self-dealing.
“Payment of these expenses also violated IRS rules governing reporting of income for each of the recipients on their W-2 forms, exposing the NRA to penalties for false filings and for under-withholding of taxes due,” the new complaint alleges.
Describing her investigation as ongoing, James did not reveal whether she referred criminal charges for the alleged federal tax violations.
Beset by internal turmoil, in-fighting and a Mueller-era prosecution shining a light on Russian government infiltration of their organization, the NRA saw its record of alleged financial mismanagement documented by multiple lawsuits at the same time James announced her investigation publicly.
James referred to the group as a “terrorist organization” during her run for attorney general, but her lawsuit describes the gun group’s donors as the victims of these practices.
“The effect has been to divert millions of dollars away from the charitable mission, imposing substantial reductions in its expenditures for core program services, including gun safety, education, training, member services and public affairs,” her complaint states.
NRA President Carolyn Meadows quickly denounced the lawsuit as an election-year stunt.
“This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend,” Meadows said in a statement. “You could have set your watch by it: The investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle. It’s a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda.”
Wasting little time on a counterattack, the NRA sued James in Albany this afternoon, claiming the new lawsuit against it in Manhattan violates the First Amendment rights of its more than 5 million members.
“This has been a power grab by a political opportunist — a desperate move that is part of a rank political vendetta,” Meadows said. “Our members won’t be intimidated or bullied in their defense of political and constitutional freedom.”
James is hardly alone in alleging a culture of fraud in the gun group as former NRA insiders and associates rush forward with supporting allegations.
In a separate Thursday suit, Karl Racine, the attorney general in Washington, D.C., seeks to have the NRA’s diverted assets governed by a constructive trust.
“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,” Racine said in a statement. “With this lawsuit, we aim to recover donated funds that the NRA Foundation wasted. District nonprofits should be on notice that the Office of the Attorney General will file suit if we find evidence of illegal behavior.”
Founded in New York, the NRA has much less to lose from the lawsuit filed in the nation’s capital, and Racine has not faced the same kind of personal attack as James, who brushed aside claims of political motivations.
“We follow the facts and the law,” James said at her press conference. “We come to conclusions of law.”
She filed the case in Manhattan Supreme Court, where a similar lawsuit filed by her predecessor led to a $2 million settlement with a now-defunct Trump Foundation.