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Jury finds NRA executives including head Wayne LaPierre liable for corruption

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The top leaders of the National Rifle Association have been found by a jury to be liable for corruption and mismanagement. The jury ordered two of them, including longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre, to repay roughly $6.5 million. NPR's Brian Mann was in the courtroom in Manhattan yesterday. Brian, thanks for being with us.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: What did the jury verdict say?

MANN: Well, really, Scott, this jury validated damning claims laid out by New York state Attorney General Letitia James and her team over this six-week trial. They argued that LaPierre and other NRA officials basically fleeced the gun group using donations from gun owners to pay for luxury vacations, private jet flights and a lot of other perks. In all, New York state says mismanagement and corruption cost the NRA roughly $64 million. LaPierre is now on the hook for about $4.4 million he'll have to pay back. Another executive, Wilson Phillips, will have to pay back roughly $2 million. They do say they're going to appeal. But in her statement, Attorney General James called this a victory over what she described as corruption and greed at the NRA.

SIMON: Wayne LaPierre has led the NRA for three decades. What was his reaction?

MANN: Yeah. He's an important figure in all this. LaPierre was instrumental in pushing the NRA, which used to be a hunting and sportsmen's group, toward this much more hardline stance on guns. He sat in court yesterday listening as the jury ruled against him and his leadership on point after point. After the verdict was read out, LaPierre walked past us - past reporters - outside the courthouse. He stared straight ahead, Scott. No expression. He wouldn't answer our questions. It's really a huge fall from grace for this once very powerful figure. He's 74 years old and stepped down last month on the eve of this trial, citing health concerns.

SIMON: And where does this leave the NRA?

MANN: It's been a devastating chapter for the NRA. Beginning in 2018, whistleblowers and feuding members of the organization started dishing dirt on each other. The scandal grew. They've lost money and a lot of members. In a statement yesterday, the NRA said it has implemented new governance procedures to protect donor money in the future. But clearly, they have lost a ton of influence. They were forced to shut down their television operation. They've got less money now to spend on political campaigns. And this jury verdict just adds to the narrative that the NRA has been deeply troubled and mismanaged for a long time.

SIMON: And, Brian, let me ask you about Attorney General Letitia James, who brought this lawsuit. Let us know a little bit more about her, who - she's become a big name nationally.

MANN: She has, Scott. She's a Democrat and has emerged quickly as a major national player. This is the same prosecutor, remember, who took on Donald Trump with that big fraud lawsuit, accusing him of inflating the value of his real estate holdings. Just yesterday, the judge in that Trump case finalized a judgment against the former president, ordering him to pay $454 million. He has 30 days now to appeal. Now, James' critics have been saying that she brings politically motivated cases. Trump has accused her of mounting a witch hunt. NRA officials in this case also accused her of trying to silence their conservative group's pro-gun message. But, you know, courts keep rejecting those arguments, and her team is building these strong cases. And in the end, she just keeps winning.

SIMON: Any implication in this verdict over gun regulation, gun violence in America?

MANN: You know, the NRA has been embroiled now in this scandal for five years. Wayne LaPierre, as we mentioned, is out. The gun group even tried to file for bankruptcy at one point. But it hasn't moved the needle much on the discussion of gun violence and mass shootings. The NRA's hard-line stance against gun regulation is now a bedrock principle of the Republican Party. Even after mass shootings, GOP leaders haven't shown any flexibility on that. No one I talked to thinks this verdict is going to open the door to a really different national conversation.

SIMON: Brian Mann, thanks so much.

MANN: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.