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Trial Against NRA Execs Goes Forward Without One Defendant

By Vaidehi Mehta, Esq. | Last updated on

Joshua Powell and Wayne LaPierre have been household names for decades among National Rifle Association (NRA) members and gun enthusiasts everywhere. Outside of the NRA, they've been rather controversial names. A few years ago, the New York Attorney General launched a lawsuit against these two gun rights advocates, among other members of the NRA's senior management.

But last Friday, LaPierre resigned from his position as CEO. On the same day, Powell reached a $100,000 settlement agreement with the AG's office. Coincidence? We think not. Let's cover a little bit of the history of these two NRA advocates before we turn to the ongoing litigation involved.

LaPierre and Powell's NRA History

Wayne LaPierre was a prominent figure in the American gun rights movement, having served as the Executive Vice President of the NRA since 1991, and later CEO. With his fiery rhetoric and unwavering commitment to the Second Amendment, LaPierre became an influential (although controversial) figure in American politics — joined later by Powell.

Joshua Powell joined the NRA in 2013 as a communications specialist and quickly rose through the ranks. In 2016, he became Executive Director of Operations and Chief of Staff to CEO LaPierre. Powell was considered a close confidante of LaPierre and a key figure in the NRA's inner circle.

But at some point, Powell became disillusioned with the NRA's internal practices and financial mismanagement. In 2019, he published a tell-all book titled Inside the NRA: A Tell-All Account of Corruption, Greed, and Paranoia Within the Most Powerful Political Group in America. In it, he offers a scathing critique of the organization, exposing alleged corruption, greed, and internal dysfunction.

Powell's Power Move Against LaPierre

In his book, Powell accuses the NRA of misappropriation of funds, lavish spending, and executive self-dealing. He also calls out points of corruption within the organization, from dubious fundraising tactics to connections to Russian interests to potential influence-peddling. Powell also criticizes the NRA's political strategy, arguing that it relies on fear-mongering and misinformation to demonize gun control advocates and drive donations.

Inside the NRA sheds light on the NRA's internal power dynamics, portraying LaPierre as a domineering and controlling leader who surrounded himself with loyalists, silencing dissent, and quashing accountability. Powell writes of his former boss: "In spite of Wayne's attempts to paint the other side as the 'Elites,' he himself was the epitome of elitism, robbing every $45-dues-paying member to cover the costs of his own extravagance and his shameful mismanagement of a multi-hundred-million-dollar association."

While primarily a critique, the book also offers glimpses of Powell's own transformation from passionate gun rights advocate to disillusioned whistleblower. The book contributed to ongoing legal and financial challenges faced by the NRA — including the investigation led by the office of the New York AG, Leticia James.

From Whistleblower to Witness

In 2020, James led her office's lawsuit on behalf of the people of New York against a number of people in the upper ranks of the NRA, as well as the organization as a whole. Initially, Powell and LaPierre, among three other members of the organization's management, were listed as defendants.

James filed a civil complaint against them alleging financial abuse and mismanagement. She accused them of misusing over $64 million in cash donated by gun owners. Her complaint claims that they illegally used the money for their own nefarious purposes, such as using it to finance expensive vacations and private jets, and to make fake jobs for friends who never showed up to work but collected their paychecks.

Her office had, for a while, been suspect of corruption within the NRA — and Powell's book may have been just the ticket James was looking for to find an ally from within. Unsurprisingly, Powell went on to cooperate with James' investigation into the NRA, providing testimony and evidence.

As part of the settlement agreement, Powell has admitted to OAG's claims of wrongdoing in its lawsuit. He was barred from serving on any future non-profit that has donors in the state of New York. He has also agreed to pay $100,000 in "restitution," meaning that the New York state government will hold the money in escrow and eventually transfer it to the NRA, "for the benefit of the NRA's charitable beneficiaries."

Trial Moves Forward Without Powell

As for LaPierre and the other three defendants that remain in the lawsuit? Despite their efforts to stop or delay trial, proceedings went forward as planned this week.

During opening arguments, LaPierre's attorneys claimed that he "was told that he must fly private due to safety concerns." An expert witness testified that nonprofits are not in the habit of paying for their executive's private air travel.

One of the other defendants, the NRA' CFO, Wilson "Woody" Phillips, admitted to getting the organization into a $1.36 million contract with tech company HomeTelos. The problem? At the time he was dating their CEO and he didn't reveal his ties to the NRA.

We'll have to wait and see how the rest of the trial plays out for the Second Amendment C-Suite.

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