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At trial, NRA leader LaPierre acknowledges he wrongly expensed private flights, gifts

FILE - Wayne LaPierre arrives at court in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in New York. LaPierre has taken the stand, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, in the New York civil trial over allegations that violated the trust of the not-for-profit charity’s 5 million members by enriching himself and close associates. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre acknowledged at a civil trial Monday that he wrongly expensed private flights for his family and accepted vacations from vendors doing business with the nonprofit gun rights organization without disclosing them.

It was LaPierre's second day of testimony before a Manhattan jury that will decide if the outgoing NRA chief executive violated rules governing charities and nonprofits over allegations he treated himself to millions of dollars in extravagant perks at the expense of the powerful advocacy group.

The New York attorney general sued the 74-year-old CEO and three co-defendants in 2020, claiming widespread misspending and self-enrichment among certain NRA leaders.

Over the past week, lawyers for the state showed the jury receipts documenting expenses including a $1,000-plus handbag that LaPierre bought for an NRA vendor and more than $500,000 in private jet flights, including some in which LaPierre wasn't even a passenger and was merely flying family members back from overseas vacations.

“I now know there was a limit of $25,” for NRA-sponsored gifts, LaPierre said.

Ahead of trial, LaPierre said he would be resigning as head of the NRA after a decadeslong run that saw him lead it from being a charity and safety organization to a political juggernaut that influenced federal law and presidential elections. His last day is Wednesday.

On Monday, he said on the witness stand that he was leaving the organization “on good terms.”

During recent trial proceedings, LaPierre told the court he hadn’t realized the travel tickets, hotel stays, meals, and yacht access counted as gifts.

He acknowledged receiving $274,000 in tailored suits over the years from a media contractor working with the NRA. He said the suits were needed for TV interviews, and that producers insisted he update his wardrobe.

“They were literally costumes," he said. “They weren’t gifts; they were work items for me.”

LaPierre also acknowledged authorizing private helicopter flights for NRA executives to and from the Texas Motor Speedway during NASCAR events. While the immediate purpose was to avoid getting stuck in traffic, the flights were also part of a larger effort to ingratiate the NRA with country music stars and mainstream groups including the NFL — as criticism of the organization increased in the wake of mass shootings.

“I tried to build a relationship with all these cultural institutions," LaPierre said, to push against a narrative that the NRA was “some right-wing organization.”

On Monday, LaPierre claimed that he had reimbursed the NRA for inappropriate gifts and other expenses.

“I wanted to pay it back, with interest,” LaPierre said, recounting an internal audit he supported at the NRA after various misspending issues came to light.

While acknowledging that some of the private air travel was wrong to accept, he claims the bulk of it was done to satisfy his head of security, who said flying commercial was no longer safe for him after 2013. At the time, he was arguing against gun control measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 26 people.

It's unclear which types of inappropriate spending LaPierre is claiming to have refunded because those payments are not included in court documents. Lawyers for the attorney general's office will be allowed to question him on the repayments in court this week.

The attorney general’s office is calling for restitution and financial penalties for NRA officials who improperly profited from the organization's activities.

LaPierre, 74, has led the NRA ’s day-to-day operations since 1991, acting as the face and vehement voice of its gun-rights agenda and becoming one of the most influential figures in shaping U.S. gun policy. Andrew Arulanandam, a top NRA lieutenant who has served as LaPierre’s spokesperson, will assume his roles on an interim basis, the organization said.

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This story was first published on Jan. 29, 2024. It was updated on Jan. 30, 2024, to correct that National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre testified he purchased a handbag as a gift for an NRA vendor, not his wife.