Wayne LaPierre, the embattled leader of the National Rifle Association (NRA), has admitted he put the powerful gun-rights group into bankruptcy without first informing most of its board members and top officials.
Mr LaPierre took the witness stand in the NRA’s high-stakes bankruptcy trial over whether it should be allowed to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, where a state lawsuit is trying to put it out of business.
The 71-year-old testified that he consulted with the NRA board’s three-member special litigation committee before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January.
But the notoriously secretive executive acknowledged he did not inform most of the 76-member board and the NRA’s other top leaders.
Mr LaPierre did not explain the secretiveness and a lawyer for the state of New York did not ask about it during his initial questions. He did, however, prompt Mr LaPierre to explain the bankruptcy.
“We filed this bankruptcy to look for a fair legal playing field where NRA could prosper and grow in a fair legal environment as opposed to what we believed had become a toxic, politicised, weaponised government in New York state,” Mr LaPierre said.
The testimony came on the third day of the trial, which is being held virtually before a federal court in Dallas.
The NRA’s lawyers have framed the bankruptcy as a legitimate move to a more friendly political environment and avoid a legal death blow; New York’s attorneys have argued it is an effort by Mr LaPierre and other executives to duck accountability for using the nation’s most politically influential gun-rights group as a piggy bank.
As the hearing on New York’s request that the case be thrown out resumed on Wednesday morning, Judge Harlin Hale called it “the most important motion I’ve ever heard as a judge”.
The NRA declared bankruptcy five months after New York Attorney General Letitia James sued seeking the group’s dissolution.
The Democratic official alleged top NRA executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts for associates and other questionable expenditures. The bankruptcy process freezes pending litigation.
Among the allegations is that Mr LaPierre sailed in the Bahamas on the yacht of Hollywood producer David McKenzie, whose company has done business with the NRA, but did not pay for the trips nor mention them on financial disclosures.
Mr LaPierre acknowledge in a deposition that his family used the yacht in the summers following a 2012 school shooting in Connecticut and a 2018 massacre in Florida. He said it was as a “security retreat”.