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NRA leader is in court over allegations that the group used millions to fund luxuries

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A civil trial is now underway in New York City against the National Rifle Association, the country's most prominent pro-Second Amendment group. Opening statements come just days after the resignation of the NRA's longtime leader, Wayne LaPierre, and a a hundred-thousand-dollar settlement with a former executive. Samantha Max of member station WNYC was in court today. She is here with us now. Hey, Samantha.

SAMANTHA MAX, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: Hi. Set us up here. This is Day 1 of the trial. Who is suing and why?

MAX: So new York Attorney General Letitia James is suing on behalf of the state of New York. She filed this lawsuit in 2020 alleging that the NRA, which was originally chartered here in New York, was conducting just widespread corruption with its leadership. So her lawsuit was saying that the nonprofit was using the organization's money on personal costs, things like trips to the Bahamas, rides on private jets, fancy meals, stays at luxury hotels. The list goes on and on and on. And all told, James says that just in a three-year span, $64 million were spent on personal expenses instead of what the NRA was actually supposed to be spending the money on.

KELLY: OK. And again, this is not a criminal case. This is civil. What is Letitia James trying to accomplish?

MAX: So New York has laws that govern how its nonprofits are supposed to operate, and the AG's office says the NRA violated those laws and misused the charitable funds that should have been spent on the actual mission of the NRA. And today in court, the assistant attorney general who gave the opening statement was making the argument that the organization's leaders really breached the trust of donors who spent money that they had earned, that they had worked hard to get. And instead of using that money toward NRA official purposes, they were spending it on these personal trips and dinners and all kinds of things. So the AG's office is trying to recoup the money that was lost and also bar the defendants from serving on any nonprofit board in New York in the future. So it's going after both the NRA as a whole and also these particular leaders who are named in the lawsuit.

KELLY: Got it. Got it. And what's the defense? What's the NRA saying about the case?

MAX: So they give their opening statement tomorrow, since things were a little delayed today. So we'll know more then. But the NRA has been for years trying to get this case dismissed. They've accused the attorney general of being biased against them and have cited comments that she's made in the past on the group. And last week, the NRA said in a statement that it is committed to good governance and is taking taking steps to address these allegations that were laid out in the lawsuit.

KELLY: And I suppose, for people listening, the wider question will just be, what could this case mean for the future of the NRA?

MAX: I think that's a really good question. You know, the NRA has really risen in power over the years as gun rights have become such a central part of the political debate here in the U.S. And this trial is just the latest development in a years-long scandal that has really kind of sullied the reputation of the NRA. The organization has filed for bankruptcy, though a judge later tossed that request. Wayne LaPierre, the longtime leader, has stepped down. So the AG was not able to fully dissolve the NRA as she had initially hoped, but it really remains to be seen at this point how the organization will bounce back.

KELLY: Samantha Max covers public safety for WNYC. Thanks for being with us.

MAX: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Samantha Max covers criminal justice for WPLN and joins the newroom through the Report for America program. This is her second year with Report for America: She spent her first year in Macon, Ga., covering health and inequity for The Telegraph and macon.com.