Longtime NRA head Wayne LaPierre finishes testimony in New York civil trial a day before retiring

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Wayne LaPierre, who helmed the National Rifle Association for three decades, wrapped up his testimony at a civil corruption case Tuesday by saying he wasn’t in it for the money.

LaPierre took the stand in the final days of his tenure as head of one of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups. His testimony is a highlight of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ case alleging the NRA violated laws for nonprofit groups, committed tax fraud and spent millions on personal expenses for its leaders.

For the instances that he used the nonprofit’s funds for personal travel, helicopter rides, clothing, car rides, hair, makeup and meals, LaPierre later said it wasn’t about money but rather to bolster the organization’s reach and importance.

On Tuesday, when his attorney, Kent Correll, asked if he ever asked for a raise, a bonus, or a post-employment contract during his decades at the NRA, LaPierre answered, “No.”

“Were you in it for the money?” Correll asked.

“No, I was in it for the cause and the members,” LaPierre said.

The outgoing CEO stepped down earlier this month, citing his health, and his departure is effective January 31.

“I love the NRA, I love its mission I love the members. I think our members are some of the nicest people of the country. I felt really bad when I was stepping down,” LaPierre testified on Tuesday.

“I tried to fight through it, but all my doctors told me, ‘Wayne, you’re risking a catastrophic medical incident, you have to retire,’” he added.

He wanted to attract hunters to the NRA

LaPierre testified some of the expenses were aimed at expanding the NRA’s reputation from only a Second Amendment organization to making it vital to the hunting community.

He said he visited a hunting rights and wildlife conservation group called Safari Club International, expensing trips to its convention in Texas because the NRA got “a tremendous amount of success” from attending.

There, he met with hunters who eventually became members and later donors.

“I wanted to project the NRA as a hunting organization – we were doing most of the legislation for that already,” he said. “We were able to integrate the NRA into the center of the hunting community.”

LaPierre said he had never gone hunting before, calling himself a “novice.” Tony Makris, an associate at Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s former advertising firm, became his hunting mentor.

“I had to walk the walk, talk the talk, develop the street credit, if I was going to do the job,” he said. He added that while hunting was interesting to him, he was there for business.

“I would never take a shot without it being on camera,” LaPierre said. “I mean, the purpose was to produce a television show, that’s what I was there for.”

LaPierre testified that the NRA didn’t tend to be seen as a hunting organization and he forged relationships with hunters because he thought the NRA’s mission was already aligned with their interests.

LaPierre said he would not book a safari alone or without business purpose.

He testified for three days and has finished his testimony in the attorney general’s case. However, the defense reserves the right to call him back to the stand in their case.

Using NRA funds to fly his family was wrong, LaPierre testified

NRA attorney Sarah Rodgers outlined improper use of funds at the organization during her cross examination of LaPierre on Monday. It was a reference to LaPierre’s use of private jets to pick up his family, which emerged in testimony on Friday.

“If you sent a plane to pick up your family on a plane using NRA funds, that was wrong?” Rodgers asked.

“Yes,” LaPierre answered.

“This is wrong and that shouldn’t have happened?” she asked. “Yes,” LaPierre said.

“And until 2018 or 2019, you never told the board, correct?” she asked. “Correct,” he said.

Earlier in Monday’s testimony, Jonathan Conley, assistant attorney general, asked LaPierre about helicopter rides that were later billed to the NRA.

Conley reviewed invoices for multiple helicopter trips chartered for LaPierre and other executives, with tabs of about $2,940, $3,295 and $2,000, respectively.

LaPierre agreed with questioning that one trip billed to the NRA showed he chartered a helicopter ride to attend NASCAR races with other executives to avoid traffic.

Conley asked LaPierre about a series of expenses and trips with the owners of Ackerman McQueen, the advertising agency, alleging these expenses by LaPierre and other executives, were paid for by Ackerman McQueen and then billed to the NRA.

He testified the arrangement was an “out of pocket” coordination between the advertising firm and LaPierre and other NRA executives.

Some of the other lavish expenses stemmed from clothing purchases LaPierre said he made for TV appearances. The bills went to Ackerman McQueen.

In March 2016, LaPierre spent $29,000 in a visit to Zegna, the luxury clothing brand. In September 2016, he spent an additional $15,000 there, saying it was a time of personal style changes. Another clothing bill reached $39,000.

“Mr. McQueen used to literally beat me up to go get wardrobe at this store,” LaPierre said. “I did all television for NRA. He hated my clothing, he wanted different varieties, different color, he wanted style changes.”

Conley asked if the out-of-pocket arrangement was an “internal control failure of the NRA.”

“I think it certainly, now, wasn’t appropriate,” LaPierre said. “This is not a practice the NRA would do today.”

He blamed the advertising agency, saying he wanted to comply with New York’s nonprofit laws but “it was Ackerman McQueen that didn’t want their records to be looked at.”

In what LaPierre described as an acrimonious “course correction,” the NRA began to look at invoices related to the Ackerman McQueen firm closely.

“If anything was found where I received an advantage, where I received benefits, I wanted to pay it back in interest, which is what I did,” LaPierre said.

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