Deposition of Ackerman McQueen EVP Melanie Montgomery
On March 31, 2021, Ackerman McQueen’s executive vice president, Melanie Montgomery, sat for a deposition in the NRA’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in Texas. That deposition was made public in a late 2021 filing by Ackerman. NRA Watch reviewed the transcript and highlighted some testimony of note below.
- In describing her experience working with the NRA for over 15 years, Montgomery states, “I would say that I, from a business standpoint, kind of ran the activities of the [NRA] account, supervised a lot of, you know, over a hundred people that worked on the business. And worked very closely with Wayne and Woody on budgeting, staying on budget, that sort of thing” (p. 7).
- Montgomery states that Ackerman would prepare a large Excel spreadsheet with the proposed budget and backup documents, and the NRA would ask for greater clarity on each line item “[a]lmost always. Because the budget Excel spreadsheet were large line items, so to speak, you know, that’s the way that it would be billed on a monthly basis in the coming year after the budget was approved So there were elements for each line item that had further explanation or backup” (p. 18).
- According to Montgomery, “Tyler Schropp would also attend on occasion. And I think there was either one or two years that Josh Powell attended those sessions.” Did she feel comfortable with Powell’s participation? “Not really, no” (p. 23). She contends that she stated that objection to the NRA “prior to our October 2018 meeting” (p. 24).
- Montgomery states that Ackerman staff “never transmitted budgets via email or otherwise. We endeavored to do it in person” because “Wayne LaPierre liked everything to be kept very confidential and no opportunity for leaks or anything of that nature” (p. 25).
- According to Montgomery, the budgets included a line item for “pass-through expenses.” Montgomery contends that she did not know what was included in those pass-through expenses, however. That would be handled by “Our accounting department,” including “Bill Winkler, Brandon Winkler, other people who…monitored expense reports. Because I know that expense reports that Tony Makris submitted and some that Nader Tavangar submitted would go through that line item” (p. 29-31). “[I]t wasn’t just Tony Makris’ expenses. There were others that I now know that were in there. I just did not know that at the time” (p. 32).
- What other items came in as “pass-through expenses”? According to Montgomery, “The only one I know for certain is Tyler Schropp’s credit card that he had with Ackerman McQueen. I was aware of that. I did not see his monthly statements, but I knew he had an Ackerman McQueen credit card because he called me to ask me about setting that up” (p. 35).
- Later, Montgomery explains that she was later made aware of other “pass-through expenses”: “I do know that there were several Wayne LaPierre hotel rooms, meals, planes, a lot of his travel expenses that went through there. And…for the Dallas NRA Annual Meeting, Josh Powell had a significant expense from his hotel bill that went through there as well” (p. 117).
- Montgomery contends that there was more to the October 11, 2018, budget meeting at Ackerman McQueen: “[P]art of the reason for the meeting, in addition to budget discussions, was to discuss the harassment that we were receiving from letters from Mr. Brewer and also the general harassing nature of Mr. Powell, who had recently been designated as one of Mr. LaPierre’s designee[s]. So we wanted to discuss that, see if we could come to a resolution on that before we even discussed the budget, because if we couldn’t, then we, Ackerman McQueen, no longer wanted to continue the relationship” (p. 52).
- Montgomery states that Ackerman’s goal was for Bill Brewer to “no longer harass us with letters, requesting documents that we had either provided or that Wayne had specifically instructed us not to provide and that Mr. Powell would not be Wayne’s designee on the Ackerman McQueen-related business” (p. 52-53).
- Montgomery states that “there had been all kinds of threats made by Mr. Brewer that we found out through Wayne I believe that I know went directly to Angus that, you know, there were going to be RICO charges, the FBI was going to raid our office. There was going to be an investigation by the Justice Department. And so those were the threats that we were no longer willing to sustain in order to work on the NRA business. It just wasn’t…worth it” (p. 53).
- According to Montgomery, LaPierre said that he had shown up late to the October 2018 budget meeting “because Bill Brewer and Josh Powell were on the plane. And I kept saying, ‘Why do they even need to be with you?’ And he said because they’re going to—I’m paraphrasing, but something along the lines of they’re going to protect me. This is where Wayne began his narrative of Bill Brewer is going to keep me out of jail. He’s going to be the only one to keep me out of jail. And then when [we] kind of kept questioning that…Wayne didn’t offer any specifics, but he said…I need to keep him around long enough. And he would say to us something like 30, 60, 90 days so he can get this thing in New York resolved over with and I won’t be in any trouble” (p. 121).
- Montgomery states, “There was not a lot of detail that was required on invoices. As a matter of fact, specifically on certain invoices, Wayne requested that there be very little detail.” Which ones? “The majority of them, and specifically ones in which we were doing projects for him, for instance, speech writing. But just in general, Mr. LaPierre would tell us to keep the verbiage at a minimum.” Montgomery contends that LaPierre expressed that in “[s]everal conversations over time…[a]s far back as I can remember” (p. 81).
- Why would LaPierre make this request? According to Montgomery, “it was for internal reasons, Wayne not trusting his accounting department. But it also was for, you know, any of this information to get out to the competition. I think that Carry Guard is a good example of that. There was another entity, called USCCA, that had a similar project. And so to put a lot of verbiage on an invoice that…could possibly be leaked would be damaging to what NRA wanted to do in terms of initiating that new brand” (p. 83).
- According to Montgomery, Ackerman had a “no surprise invoices” policy. “I mean, we wouldn’t send an invoice unless the client knew exactly what it was going to be for and that they approved the amount for such. We had routine meetings with Mr. Phillips about, you know, what was coming and those sort of things. So, no, I did not get any…questions on our invoices” (p. 89). “I would have calls with Mr. Phillips, a lot” (p. 91). Montgomery states that LaPierre also knew of the invoicing: “Wayne was very clear on what we would be invoicing and what he was approving” (p. 90).
- Montgomery states that Ackerman attempted to pay realtor Amy Detwiler a $5,000 consulting fee for her work in finding a home for the LaPierres, though the sale never went through. “Ackerman McQueen was going to pay Amy for her time. She spent a substantial amount of time researching and looking for these homes for Wayne and Susan” (p. 110).
- Montgomery contends that at the request of Wayne LaPierre, Ackerman McQueen created advertisements for Youth For Tomorrow, “a nonprofit organization that Susan and Wayne LaPierre were very involved in. Susan, I know, sat on the board and, I believe, was president of the board for quite some time” (p. 113). According to Montgomery, Ackerman “did not charge any kind of profit or fair market value base pricing” (p. 114).
- According to Montgomery, it was Wayne LaPierre who directed Ackerman to bill the NRA Foundation for some services instead of the NRA proper: “[I]n the last year that we…did business with NRA, Mr. LaPierre directed us to change course on some of the programming so that it could fall under the Foundation and be billed to them as opposed to the (c)(4) entity.” Why? “In the budget conversation, [LaPierre] wanted it billed that way because he said…the Foundation had available dollars. The budget wasn’t as tight there as it was on the non-Foundation” (p. 118).