March for Our Lives DC 2018,” Susan Melkisethian

October 5, 2020; Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the IRS is investigating Wayne LaPierre, who has led the National Rifle Association (NRA) for more than 30 years, for possible criminal tax fraud. This is a separate action from the civil suit New York’s attorney general Letitia James brought against him, but when she brought that suit, James added that she was referring additional information about LaPierre having potentially engaged in tax avoidance to the IRS.

If LaPierre is criminally charged, he would join William Aramony of the United Way of America in the roster of high-profile nonprofit leaders who have faced such charges. In the 1990s, Aramony famously siphoned money from that nonprofit for personal expenses, including (we kid you not) a trip down the Nile with a teenage girl as his companion.

There is a high bar for such criminal action. To be convicted, LaPierre would have to be shown to have engaged willfully in the fraud, which in this case appears to involve unreported compensation. That might involve personal expenses that were paid for by the organization or its vendors. Such expenses are well documented in the attorney general’s complaint, and they include luxury clothing and travel expenses for himself and his family on top of a multimillion-dollar salary. There are also problems related to his receipt of undisclosed gifts from vendors to the organization.

Once in the Bahamas, Mr. LaPierre allegedly stayed in a hotel paid for by a Hollywood producer who is a large NRA vendor, or aboard the producer’s 108-foot yacht. Mr. LaPierre didn’t mention the yacht trips on annual ethics forms that required disclosure of any gifts worth more than $250 from an NRA vendor, the complaint said.

In his testimony to the attorney general’s office, Mr. LaPierre said he didn’t disclose the yacht trips for security reasons and because he considered the boat to have been used for a legitimate business purpose, including discussions between his wife and a niece about the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum—a group both were involved with, according to the attorney general’s complaint.

“Any time I get the two of them together anywhere, there is a benefit for the NRA,” the complaint says that he testified. “Yeah, they got together in the Bahamas…it could have been in Washington.”

Mr. LaPierre also testified it is NRA policy that he travel by private aircraft at all times for security reasons and that he wasn’t aware of any limits on how much he can spend on the flights, according to the attorney general’s complaint.

The investigation may not lead to prosecution, of course, but it is yet another complication for the faltering national advocacy group.—Ruth McCambridge