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Former top NRA official admits wrongdoing in New York corruption case

Joshua Powell, a former top executive at the NRA, is pictured. Powell has admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay $100,000 ahead of a civil corruption trial.
The Washington Post via Getty Images
Joshua Powell, a former top executive at the NRA, is pictured. Powell has admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay $100,000 ahead of a civil corruption trial.

A former top executive at the National Rifle Association, Joshua Powell, has admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay $100,000 on the eve of a civil corruption trial of the organization's top executives set to begin on Monday.

The settlement announcement from the New York state attorney general's office on Friday came the same day that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, 74, announced his resignation from the organization after more than three decades.

"Joshua Powell's admission of wrongdoing and Wayne LaPierre's resignation confirm what we have alleged for years: the NRA and its senior leaders are financially corrupt," New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

In her civil lawsuit, James has accused top NRA leaders of misusing more than $64 million in cash donated by gun owners.

The suit claims LaPierre and others used the money to pay for private jets, lavish vacations, and to fund no-show jobs for friends and allies. Powell was previously named as one of five defendants; the trial against four remaining defendants is expected to go forward as scheduled.

LaPierre and the NRA have denied any wrongdoing.

Powell was head of operations and chief of staff to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, but in recent years he broke with the group, emerging as a critic of the pro-gun organization's fundraising tactics and publishing a tell-all book in 2020.

"The finances of the NRA are in shambles," Powell wrote, portraying the NRA as part of "the grifter culture of Conservative Inc."

In a 2020 interview with NPR, Powell said that under LaPierre's leadership, the NRA tried to radicalize gun owners in order to raise more money.

"The term 'pour gasoline on the fire' is from Wayne's lips to God's ears ... it's very easy to raise money off of fear," he said.

The NRA, meanwhile, has portrayed this lawsuit as a political effort by a Democratic state attorney general to weaken the once-powerful gun organization.

Those arguments were rejected during a lengthy appeals court process, which cleared the way for Monday's trial.

In a statement Friday, the NRA said LaPierre was stepping down for health reasons.

"I will never stop supporting the NRA and its fight to defend Second Amendment freedom," he said. "My passion for our cause burns as deeply as ever."

During his time at the helm of the NRA, LaPierre moved the organization to the right, taking a hard-line stance against gun regulation even as mass shootings and gun violence surged in the U.S. Firearms are now a leading cause of death for young Americans.

In a statement on Friday, the head of the Brady gun control advocacy organization, Kris Brown, issued a statement saying the "NRA is on the ropes" because of its legal troubles.

"Wayne LaPierre spent three decades peddling the big lie that more guns make us safer," she said in a statement.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.