NRA discussed purchasing luxury mansion for its chief executive to use, documents show

NRA discussed purchasing luxury mansion for its chief executive to use, documents show

Documents indicate that the National Rifle Association planned to purchase a luxury mansion in the Dallas area last year for the use of chief executive Wayne LaPierre, according to two people familiar with the records.

The discussions about the roughly $6 million purchase, which was not completed, are now under scrutiny by New York investigators. The transaction was slated to be made through a corporate entity that received a wire of tens of thousands of dollars from the NRA in 2018, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The New York attorney general’s office is now examining the plan for an NRA-financed mansion as part of its ongoing investigation into the gun lobby’s tax-exempt status, in which it has subpoenaed the group’s financial records, the people said.

A spokesperson for New York Attorney General Letitia James declined to comment.

One property that was considered, according to a person familiar with the plans, was a 10,000-square-foot French country estate with lakefront and golf course views.

The four-bedroom, nine-bath home in a gated golf course community northwest of Dallas resembles a French chateau, with a stately boxwood-lined drive, a formal courtyard, vaulted ceilings and an antique marble fireplace, according to its online real estate listing.

The origins of the idea to buy the mansion, its proposed purpose and the reason the deal never went through are now being fiercely disputed by the NRA and its longtime ad firm, Ackerman McQueen, which are locked in a bitter legal fight.

In a statement late Tuesday night, Ackerman McQueen said LaPierre had sought the ad firm’s assistance with the real estate transaction, a proposal it said alarmed company officials. “Actions in this regard led to Ackerman McQueen’s loss of faith in Mr. LaPierre’s decision-making,” the firm said.

For their part, NRA officials said that the real estate purchase was suggested in early 2018 by Ackerman McQueen as an investment that would be managed by the ad firm’s top executives — and that it was ultimately rejected by top NRA leaders.

“The deal was vetoed by the NRA after its full terms — including Ackerman’s intent to spend NRA money — became known to Wayne LaPierre,” said William A. Brewer III, an attorney for the organization. “Not a cent of NRA money was ultimately spent. Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue.” Brewer did not respond to questions about the wire transfer.

“Frankly, this is yet another example of Ackerman twisting the truth to promote a false narrative,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said in the statement. “These accusations against the NRA and Mr. LaPierre are just the latest installment of a smear campaign — a reputational attack designed to enable a small band of wrongdoers to avoid scrutiny of their own actions.”

Ackerman McQueen called the NRA’s assertions that the ad firm drove the effort to purchase the mansion “patently false.”

“The truth is that Mr. LaPierre decided to proactively propose his plan to leave his current residence and purchase a new residence,” the company said. “Acting outside the parties’ Services Agreement, Mr. LaPierre sought the involvement of Ackerman McQueen. Ackerman McQueen refused to proceed with this transaction.”

In a statement last month, Ackerman McQueen said it decided to stop paying a series of expenses for NRA executives, including LaPierre, in 2018 out of concern they were “suspicious” and their true nature was concealed from the NRA board and members.

The firm said it believed “that NRA executives were intent on personal financial activity and transactions.”

The ad firm’s decision regarding the NRA’s expenses came at roughly the same time as the discussions about the Texas real estate purchase, according to two people familiar with internal deliberations.

The revelations that the NRA was involved in discussions about the Texas mansion come as the nonprofit is contending with the fallout from allegations of lavish spending by top executives.

Leaked documents show that the NRA paid $542,000 for private jet trips for LaPierre, including a trip to the Bahamas with his wife after the Sandy Hook shooting and an array of Italian designer suits as well as the rent for a summer intern’s apartment.

The expenses were first paid by Ackerman McQueen, which then billed the NRA as part of its multimillion-dollar annual contract, according to people familiar with the arrangement.

Meanwhile, The Post has reported, 18 members of the NRA’s 76-member board received money from the group for services during the past three years, raising questions about the rigor of their oversight.

The discussions about the luxury house in 2018 came as the NRA was in deepening financial trouble: The nonprofit was on track to run a deficit for a third year in a row, had cut back dramatically on its core mission of gun safety and legislative work and frozen its employee pension plan.

LaPierre received a salary of $1.37 million for his role as executive vice president in 2017, plus an additional $67,289 in compensation, according to the NRA’s latest tax filing.

Douglas Varley, an attorney whose practice focuses on tax-exempt organizations, said if the NRA had purchased a house for LaPierre, it would have had to justify to the IRS that he needed it to do his job. Otherwise, the NRA would have had to report the purchase in its tax filing as part of LaPierre’s compensation.

“Both of those strike me as extraordinarily high bars to get over,” Varley said. He added that the IRS could revoke the NRA’s tax-exempt status on the grounds of “inurement,” meaning the organization’s leadership is treating its assets as private property.

Even though the real estate deal didn’t go through, Varley said, the activity around the house “says something about how the organization is being run and for whose benefit. These things are fundamental to nonprofit organizations.”

New York attorney Daniel Kurtz, an expert in nonprofit law, said such a home purchase could have violated New York charity law, which requires all transactions benefiting the group’s insiders to be “fair, reasonable and in the corporation’s best interest.”

“There’s no way they could defend a $6 million house for the chief executive as reasonable,” Kurtz said. “This is like the worst kind of corporate waste because buying the house does nothing to advance the interests of the NRA. How can you explain that? It’s not like he’s been underpaid.”

Kurtz said the IRS could have viewed such a purchase as an improper “excess benefit” if top officials or their families had received a benefit in excess of the fair market value of services they provide. The IRS could have required the property to be returned or sold and also could have imposed penalties.

Julie Tate, Tom Hamburger and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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