NEW YORK — A New York judge on Friday rejected the National Rifle Association’s bid to end an investigation by that state’s attorney general into alleged corruption at the gun rights group.
Justice Joel Cohen of the New York state court in Manhattan said the NRA did not show that Attorney General Letitia James’ probe was a politically motivated effort to target the group and silence its speech because she disliked its policies.
James, a Democrat, sued the NRA in August 2020, accusing it of diverting millions of dollars to fund luxuries for officials like longtime Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre, using no-show contracts for associates and making other questionable expenses.
Cohen had on March 2 blocked James’ effort to dissolve the NRA, but in Friday’s decision said she still had many legally viable claims against the nonprofit.
“The narrative that the attorney general’s investigation into these undeniably serious matters was nothing more than a politically motivated–and unconstitutional–witch hunt is simply not supported by the record,” he wrote.
William Brewer, a lawyer for the NRA, said the group was disappointed, but the decision would not affect its defenses or its Second Amendment advocacy.
“There is an extraordinary public record that, as a candidate, vowed to target the association–chilling evidence of her motivations toward a political adversary,” he said.
James, who is seeking re-election, in a statement said the decision “reaffirmed the legitimacy and viability of my office’s lawsuit against the NRA for its years of fraud, abuse and greed.”
In refusing to let James dissolve the NRA, Cohen found a lack of evidence the group benefited from financial misconduct or could not serve its members, the sort of “public harm” that could justify a “corporate death penalty.”
LaPierre has long faced allegations he exploited his three decades leading the NRA for his personal benefit.
During a trial last year that ended the NRA’s effort to file for bankruptcy and reincorporate in Texas to avoid James’ oversight, LaPierre testified about gifts he received, including yacht trips from a Hollywood producer, but denied wrongdoing.
The case is New York v. The National Rifle Association of America Inc et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 451625/2020. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)