The top prosecutor in New York state has filed a lawsuit to disband the powerful National Rifle Association, accusing it of widespread fraud and wrongdoing.
At the conclusion of an 18-month investigation into the gun industry lobbying organisation that has donated millions of dollars to politicians, including Donald Trump, New York state attorney Letitia James accused the group of being “fraught with fraud and abuse”.
In her comments on Thursday morning, Ms James highlighted the alleged wrongdoing of four current senior leaders of the group, members including Wayne LaPierre, the longtime chief executive.
The others named in the suit were John Frazer, the NRA’s general counsel, Josh Powell, a former aide to Mr LaPierre, and Woody Phillips, who once served as chief financial officer.
In a statement, Ms James, who in the spring of 2019 launched an investigation into the Trump Organisation and issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records relating to four Trump Organisation projects, alleged the NRA leaders “used millions upon millions from NRA reserves for personal use”.
She said they failed to abide by the NRA’s own internal policies as well as state and federal laws.
The NRA “has operated as a breeding ground for greed, abuse and brazen illegality”, she alleged, adding: “No one is above the law.”
Mr Trump was among those quick to respond to the developments.
“Just like Radical Left New York is trying to destroy the NRA, if Biden becomes President your GREAT SECOND AMENDMENT doesn’t have a chance. Your guns will be taken away, immediately and without notice. No police, no guns,” he wrote.
The problems confronting the once powerful NRA, which politicians have long feared and sought to appease, have been some time coming.
When Ms James last year announced she was investigating allegations of illegality and wrongdoing at the organisation, it came against the backdrop of problems that had already spilled into public view.
Among them was the decision to spend millions of dollars with Oklahoma-based consulting agency Ackerman McQueen, one that blew up when the NRA sued the advertising agency on which it had spent up to $40m (£30m) a year, accusing it of withholding billing information and breaching its contract.
At the same time as Ms James filed the civil lawsuit in state court in Manhattan, her counterpart in Washington DC sued the NRA Foundation, a charitable arm of the organisation designed to provide programmes for firearm safety, marksmanship and hunting safety, accusing it of diverting funds to the NRA to help pay for lavish spending by its top executives.
Ms James said the organisation’s problem were long cloaked by loyal lieutenants. At the same time, it went from a near-$28m surplus in 2015 to a $36m deficit in 2018.
“Charitable organisations function as public trusts – and district law requires them to use their funds to benefit the public, not to support political campaigns, lobbying, or private interests,” Washington attorney general Karl Racine said. “With this lawsuit, we aim to recover donated funds that the NRA Foundation wasted.”
Mr LaPierre, 70, who has been in charge of the NRA’s day-to-day operations since 1991, is accused of spending millions of dollars on private travel and personal security, accepting expensive gifts such as African safaris and use of a 107-foot yacht from vendors and setting himself up with a $17m contract with the NRA if he were to leave, without board approval.
There was no immediate response from Mr LaPierre or the NRA, whose members last year witnessed high drama at its annual meeting when its then president, Oliver North, was denied a traditional second term amid a tussle with Mr LaPierre as he sought to independently review the NRA’s expenses and operations. Mr North accused Mr LaPierre of exerting “dictatorial” control.
The organisation has consistently sought to reject any gun control measures, even as mass shootings at places such as schools and colleges have continued to tear at the nation.