NEW YORK -- The National Rifle Association operated as "Wayne's World," allowing executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and a group of insiders to squander tens of millions of dollars donated to the nonprofit group, a lawyer for the New York Attorney General's office said Monday during opening statements at the NRA's civil corruption trial.
"You will hear that the NRA allowed Wayne LaPierre and his group of insiders to operate the NRA as Wayne's World for decades," assistant attorney general Monica Connell told the jury. "This case is about corruption of a charity. It's about breaches of trust and it's about power."
LaPierre is seated on the defense side of the courtroom, relegated to a bench in the front row behind the lawyers. He agreed on Friday to resign, effective at the end of the month.
"He didn't have the NRA's best interest in mind," Connell said. "We believe that Mr. LaPierre's voluntary resignation does not mean you shouldn't return a verdict against him."
LaPierre filled executive positions at the NRA with unqualified loyalists in order to maintain control and conceal self-dealing, including co-defendants John Frazer, general counsel, and Woody Phillips, the former chief financial officer, the attorney general's lawsuit said.
The three of them stand accused of breaching the trust of donors by using charitable money for luxury travel, private planes and five-star hotels along with entering into multi-million dollar contracts with favored vendors willing to pay.
Connell showed the jury photos of two superyachts LaPierre was given use of and listed Greece, Dubai and other places LaPierre and his wife traveled on someone else's dime.
A fourth defendant, Josh Powell, agreed to settle the allegations and testify against the others. Connell asked the jury to hold the NRA and the three individual defendants liable for breach of fiduciary duty.
The lawsuit also seeks to recoup lost assets and ban LaPierre and the others from serving on any charitable boards in New York. The judge said the attorney general's office could not seek to entirely shut down the NRA.
During the trial, which is expected to last six weeks, the jury will hear from Lt. Col. Oliver North, who LaPierre forced out as NRA president, along with other insiders.
Attorneys for the NRA and the three individual defendants will deliver opening statements Tuesday.
The attorney general's complaint said LaPierre and others squandered at least $64 million. The NRA has said it has implemented new procedures to assure financial accountability.