New York AG case against NRA leader faces trial after court again rejects gun group’s claim of political probe

Longtime leader of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, is set to face trial in the corruption case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James after a state court recently rejected the gun advocacy group’s argument that her office’s four-year investigation was politically motivated.

LaPierre, who has been at the helm for more than three decades, is among four defendants named in James’ lawsuit brought in 2020 accusing the NRA and its senior management of violating numerous state and federal laws to divert millions of dollars to their own pockets and away from the mission of the organization. 

Jury selection is expected to kick off Tuesday before State Supreme Court Justice Joel M. Cohen. The trial, scheduled to begin on Jan. 8, is expected to last six to eight weeks. 

As recently as last Thursday, a New York state appeals court rejected the NRA’s latest effort to end James’ corruption investigation. 


The NRA has long alleged the case is politically motivated, arguing James violated the group’s First Amendment rights and executed selective enforcement of state laws governing nonprofits because she disagrees with the group’s gun advocacy. A five-judge panel of the Appellate Division in Manhattan unanimously ruled, however, that James’ office had probable cause to investigate and sue the NRA, citing the “ample evidence of malfeasance” her investigators claim to have found. 

The court also shot down the selective enforcement claim, saying other nonprofits where dissolution had been sought agreed to overhaul their leadership. In March 2022, Cohen rejected James’ goal of seeking to dissolve the NRA entirely, finding a lack of evidence that the gun advocacy group deserved the “corporate death penalty,” Reuters reported.


James’ lawsuit still aims to recoup millions of dollars’ worth of assets and to stop LaPierre, along with co-defendants John Frazer, the NRA’s former general counsel, Wilson Phillips, the former finance chief of the NRA, and Joshua Powell, who was the group’s second-in-command for a time, from serving on the board of any not-for-profit charitable organization in the state of New York again. Jurors could recommend LaPierre and Frazer be removed and assess how much each of the four defendants should be required to pay back to the NRA. 

After being fired from the organization in early 2020, Powell notably assailed the NRA in a tell-all book, claiming the group focused too heavily on money rather than Second Amendment rights, according to the New York Times. He also has advocated for universal background checks and red flag laws. 

Powell has been engaged in settlement talks with James’ office, but no plea agreement has been reached, the Times reported. 

In an interview with the Times, the NRA’s lead lawyer, William A. Brewer III, said that James’ case relies heavily on witnesses no longer affiliated with the NRA. Those include Oliver North, the organization’s former president who was reportedly forced out in 2020 amid a power struggle between LaPierre and the NRA’s longtime advertising and public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen. Phillip Journey, a former NRA director turned critic of the organization, is also on the list of those scheduled to testify, the Times reported. 

Amid the New York probe, the NRA filed for bankruptcy in Texas nearly three years ago. 

Howeverr, in May 2021, a federal bankruptcy court in Texas rejected the NRA’s declaration, stating, “that the NRA did not file the bankruptcy petition in good faith.”

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