The New York attorney general has alleged senior members of the National Rifle Association funnelled millions of dollars for lavish trips and hush payments.
New York state Attorney General Letitia James sued to the National Rifle Association (NRA) for financial fraud and misconduct on Thursday, accusing senior leaders of diverting millions of dollars for luxury trips and personal expenses.
The lawsuit aims to dissolve the organization. It follows an 18-month investigation into allegations of misspending and names the organization as whole, while targeting NRA leader Wayne LaPierre and four senior executives.
James said that NRA leaders "used millions upon millions from NRA reserves for personal use," while failing to comply with the organization's own internal policies along with state and federal law.
"The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA,because no organization is above the law," James said in a statement.
James alleges NRA leasers used the organizations reserves for family trips to the Bahamas, private jets, and for buying the silence and loyalty of former employees. The financial malfeasance amounted a $64 million (€53.9 million) reduction in the NRA's balance sheet in three years, according to the New York attorney general.
Registered as a non-profit organization in New York, the NRA is the largest gun lobby in the United States. The organisation is a key supporter of Trump and the Republican party. In the 2016 election, the NRA and its various arms directed over $30 million to back Trump, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Guns and politics
The NRA's financial problems were also exacerbated by eroding support for its pro-gun agenda following a series of mass shootings in the US.
James, a Democrat, said that the NRA's political connections lulled it into a sense of invulnerability, while creating a culture where non-profit values, and the law, could be violated.
The NRA is revered by conservatives in the US as a champion of the right to bear arms, while liberals vilify the organization as perpetuating gun violence.
"The NRA's influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets," James said.
Trump proposes NRA moves to Texas
The NRA said the lawsuit was a "baseless premediated attack" on the organizations and the "constitutional right to bear arms." The organization also pledged to challenge the lawsuit.
"You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle," NRA president Carolyn Meadows said.
The NRA is incorporated in the state of New York, although its headquarters are in Virginia. The Washington DC attorney general simultaneously sued the NRA's charity arm, the NRA Foundation, accusing it of diverting funds to top executives, the Associated Press reported.
Investigators said the NRA plundered the foundation to make up for low membership and lavish spending. Washington Attorney General Karl Racine said the law requires charitable organizations to use funds to "benefit the public, not to support political campaigns, lobbying, or private interests.''
President Donald Trump called the lawsuit "terrible" and said that the NRA could move to another state like Texas where it would lead "a very good and beautiful life."
wmr,am/dj (Reuters, AFP, AP)