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Texas Court Ponders NRA Bankruptcy Maneuver

National Rifle Association.
By Richard Dahl on April 13, 2021 6:00 AM

In Wayne LaPierre's world, the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is not a good guy with a gun. It's a rich friend with a yacht.

LaPierre is the executive vice president and CEO of the financially beleaguered National Rifle Association, which is seeking bankruptcy protection in a closely watched hearing in Texas. One of the highlights as the hearing got underway April 5 was a revelation that on two occasions LaPierre felt personally endangered by threats following school shootings and used a friend's yacht to provide refuge.

LaPierre provided that information in a deposition over the weekend, and Assistant New York Attorney General Monica Connell focused on the boat in her opening remarks as demonstration of a clear conflict of interest and violation of rules surrounding the NRA's nonprofit status.

The NRA's Legal Mess

Admitting that he hid on a boat in fear is probably embarrassing for the head of the mighty gun-rights organization, but the more pressing threat he faces now is government prosecutors.

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed suit against LaPierre and the NRA last August after an investigation revealed alleged financial misdeeds by the organization's top executives. The lawsuit seeks to dissolve the NRA and distribute its assets, worth about $200 million, to other nonprofit organizations.

The NRA and its Texas subsidiary responded by filing for Chapter 11 protection in the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas on January 15. LaPierre then issued a letter to members and supporters stating that the organization was “dumping" New York and its “corrupt political and regulatory environment" and seeking to reincorporate in Texas.

LaPierre: NRA Is 'Financially Strong'

One of the odd aspects of the proceeding is the NRA's contention that it has plenty of cash and is not in financial trouble. “We are as financially strong as we have been in years," LaPierre wrote in the letter.

In other words, the bankruptcy filing in Texas looks like venue shopping, and legal experts have said it could be dismissed for that reason. In her opening remarks on April 5, assistant AG Connell urged the court to reject the NRA's petition, which would make it easier for the state of New York to seize the organization's assets if it wins the lawsuit it launched last August.

Connell also argued that LaPierre initiated the bankruptcy move to avoid being investigated for financial wrongdoing. In her opening remarks, delivered via videoconference, Connell contended that the NRA board was deceived into giving LaPierre the power to put the organization into bankruptcy at a meeting in January.

“LaPierre's only goal is to cling to the power that his position holds," she told the court.

Private Jets, Expensive Meals, and a Yacht

Connell claimed that LaPierre and three other top executives siphoned tens of millions of dollars from organization funds to pay for personal vacation trips for them and their families, the use of private jets, and expensive meals.

In his deposition, LaPierre said he took refuge on the luxury yacht of Hollywood producer David McKenzie following the Sandy Hook and Parkland school massacres in 2012 and 2018 because he received threats. The yacht included a staff, a cook, several staterooms, and a jet boat.

“I was basically under presidential threat without presidential security in terms of the number of threats I was getting," he said in the deposition. “And this was the one place that I could feel safe, where I remember going, 'Thank God I'm safe, nobody can get me here."

The hearing is expected to last for six days, and LaPierre is expected to testify.

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