The National Rifle Association's federal bankruptcy trial that started last week is revealing new depths of corruption in an organization that already has the blood of countless Americans on its hands. Long-time NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre acknowledged under oath that he hid perks and other important information from NRA officials — including his plans to put the organization in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The trial, being conducted virtually before a federal court in Dallas, will determine whether the NRA is allowed to slip out of New York under bankruptcy protection and reincorporate in Texas. New York prosecutors allege the bankruptcy is fiscally unnecessary and is a ruse to get out from under investigation by the New York Attorney General's office. Astoundingly, the financially solvent NRA plainly acknowledges and defends this cynical abuse of bankruptcy laws.
The association's primary offense against decency, of course, has been its decades-long campaign to block even the most moderate restrictions on firearms. Using populist intimidation and political donations as leverage, it has commandeered the Republican Party to ensure that universal background checks for gun purchases, bans on assault weapons and other eminently reasonable reforms never see the light of day. If the NRA were trying to rack up body counts, it would do exactly what it's been doing.
Even as the organization has inflicted casualties on the nation, it has cheated its own dues-paying members with mismanagement and malfeasance. New York state is suing to dissolve the organization, alleging years of fraud centered on LaPierre's habit of using the association's funds as his personal piggy bank. He has spent hundreds of thousands of the nonprofit's dollars for lavish vacations, luxury car services, sporting events and other perks for himself, family and friends.
Reasonable observers might think the organization's leadership would rethink having LaPierre at its helm. Far from it. The NRA's lawyers made it clear last week that LaPierre still has the full support of its board. They credit him with ultimately coming clean about his perks and instituting ethics reforms in the organization. Which is a little like letting a bank robber guard the bank because he said he was sorry.
LaPierre acknowledged in testimony that he kept the NRA's board members and even its lawyers in the dark about his plans to file bankruptcy for the organization until he actually did it in January. He confirmed that the filing isn't driven by finances but is a strategy to get out from under the New York investigation and reincorporate in Texas.
Clearly, an organization that admits it may have fraudulently filed bankruptcy to slip out of a fraud investigation shouldn't be allowed to go forward with such a scheme. As New York Attorney General Letitia James put it back in January, the NRA's only real bankruptcy is a moral one.
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