NRA trial opens window on secretive leader's life and work

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FILE - In this April 26, 2019, file photo, Nation Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaks at the association's Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. LaPierre's testimony during the NRA's high-stakes bankruptcy trial offered a rare window into the work and habits of the notoriously secretive titan of the American firearms movement. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

DALLAS – Wayne LaPierre flies exclusively on private jets, he sailed around the Bahamas for “security” and he never sends emails or texts in the course of his work running the nation's most politically influential gun-rights group.

LaPierre's testimony this week during the National Rifle Association's high-stakes bankruptcy trial offered a rare window into the work and habits of the notoriously secretive titan of the American firearms movement.

Seldom seen in public outside choreographed speeches and TV appearances, the 71-year-old was blunt and occasionally combative under lawyers' questioning. He took the virtual witness stand in a federal case over whether the NRA should be allowed to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, where the state is suing in a separate effort to disband the group over alleged financial abuses.

LaPierre’s testimony revealed him to be an embattled executive defending his leadership and punching back against what he characterized as a political attack by New York Attorney General Letitia James. But he also tried to acknowledge enough mistakes and course corrections to avoid having the NRA's reins handed to a court-appointed overseer — a move he said would be a death blow to the 150-year-old group that claims 5 million members.

The NRA declared bankruptcy in January, five months after James' office sued seeking its dissolution over allegations that executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts and other questionable expenditures.

The NRA contends that its Chapter 11 filing is a legitimate maneuver to facilitate a move to a more gun-friendly state, Texas, and was made necessary by a Democratic politician who has “weaponized” her state's government. Lawyers for James' office, meanwhile, say it's an attempt by NRA leadership to escape accountability for using the group's coffers as their piggybank.

LaPierre appeared on camera before a court in Dallas on Wednesday and Thursday and was grilled by lawyers for New York and Ackerman McQueen, an Oklahoma City-based advertising agency that says the NRA owes it more than $1 million.

The questioning has focused on LaPierre's management of the NRA and the legitimacy of his filing for bankruptcy without first informing most of the group’s top executives and its board.