NRA Bankruptcy Proceedings

Deposition of NRA Acting Interim CFO Sonya Rowling (Bankruptcy Proceedings)

March 19, 2021

Filing Summary

Former NRA vendor Ackerman McQueen attached partial transcripts of depositions taken in the NRA bankruptcy matter to a March 24th filing.  This includes the deposition of NRA Acting Interim CFO Sonya Rowling.  Prior to her current role, Rowling was one of the finance and accounting staff members that raised concerns about compliance and financial mismanagement.  Below please find some highlights of the testimony. Pages references are to the deposition page (not the PDF page number).

Key Points

  • Rowling testified that while she didn’t know all of the people who had company cards with American Express immediately prior to the bankruptcy, she knew that Craig Spray, Rick Tedrick, Carolyn Meadows, Charles Cotton, and Joe DeBergalis all had them. She said that she did not oversee those credit cards and that they were monitored by Craig Spray and Rick Tedrick. (p.145-146)
    • Rowling testified that Craig Spray brought to her some issues about potentially wrongful charges, particularly concerns he had regarding the purchase of flights he saw on Woody Phillips’s company American Express card. (p.144)
  • Rowling testified that she had been one of the staff who, in 2018, had become whistleblowers and delivered to the NRA’s audit committee a memo laying out concerns about compliance and finance issues within the organization. She said that she felt compelled to do so by a few issues. One was that the NRA had launched its Carry Guard program which she said “was very costly to the organization” and put it “in financial strains.” Another was the hiring of Josh Powell, who she said was “trying to take over every aspect of the organization.” Rowling testified that yet another factor was that then-CFO and Treasurer Woody Phillips had asked the “accounting department to do some things outside of our practices that we were not comfortable with at all. And as individuals, we kind of started talking to each other about compliance issues, which — which kind of clarified a broader issue on an individual basis.” She added that they then “expressed some of those concerns” to Craig Spray, who was joining the organization as CFO and Treasurer around that same time. (p.112-116)
    • Rowling testified that she, Mike Erstling, Lisa George, and Emily Cummins prepared the 2018 memo laying out compliance and finance concerns to the board, and that Portia Padilla “had input but not into this exact document.”(p.127)
    • Rowling testified that then-NRA CFO and Treasurer Craig Spray had requested that she and her fellow whistleblowers put together the memo of compliance and financial concerns to present to the audit committee. (p.278)
    • Rowling testified that her personal concerns that were added to the 2018 memo were “Woody Phillips payments made to significant other. Josh Powell’s wife recently hired at a top vendor. The forced payments to WBB Investments for $70,000 without a W-9.” She added that she “was involved in discussions surrounding Lance Olson’s invoice for purchases. I was not the only contributor of that.” (p.128)
    • Rowling testified that Emily Cummins had contributed the section of the memo dealing with concerns about board member compensation from vendors such as Ackerman McQueen, Associated Television International, and Warpspeed not being disclosed, impairing independence, and being arranged behind the scenes. She added that she believed the board member compensation from Ackerman McQueen in question was Oliver North’s. (p.128)
    • Rowling testified that Mike Erstling added a passage in their memo to the audit committee complaining of vague and deceptive billing related to a $1.8 million rental of a home owned by Associated Television International President David McKenzie. (p.149-150)
    • Rowling testified that Mike Erstling added a passage in their memo to the audit committee complaining that the bills NRA vendor Membership Marketing Partners had submitted violated stipulations in its contract, particularly because “of an increase in the bills outside of what escalation clauses were within the contract.” (p.151)
  • Rowling testified that she had prepared a statement for the July 2018 NRA audit committee meeting which read, in part, “I fully believe this meeting is being manipulated in a way as to try to explain away our issues or try to claim the items on the list are fixed before we can present them as whistleblowing.” She elaborated in the deposition that she and the other whistleblowers “were concerned at the time that […] at the advice of” NRA General Counsel John Frazer and the Brewer law firm that the compliance and finance issues they were raising “were kind of being seen as individual items instead of a bigger picture.” She added that despite preparing it for the meeting, she did not present the statement to the committee and could not remember communicating that concern to the committee or anyone else at the NRA. (p.135-137)
  • Rowling testified that some time after the whistleblowers’ July 2018 meeting with the audit committee, Craig Spray requested “a vendor list so that letters could be sent for procedures that were going to be enforced with respect to vendor invoicing.  We were told with the support of Craig Spray to enforce the policies and that he would support us in those efforts if anyone tried to circumvent, I guess, our controls.” (p.141-142)
    • Rowling testified that she did not know why, after the July 2018 whistleblower memo mentioned concerns over Josh Powell’s use of his credit card to purchase computer assets, no review of Powell’s credit card purchases was conducted until 2019. (p.148-149)
  • Rowling testified that prior to Craig Spray becoming treasurer, Wayne LaPierre’s expenses “were processed through” the Institute for Legislative Action. (p.183).  This is the part of the organization that was overseen by the NRA’s former chief lobbyist Chris Cox.
    • Rowling testified that the reimbursement process for Wayne LaPierre’s expenses “was being reviewed.” (p.183)
    • When asked when Wayne LaPierre last submitted expense reimbursements to the NRA, Rowling replied, “To the best of my knowledge, 2017. Maybe some in 2018, but I am not 100 percent sure.” (p.184)
    • Rowling testified that the $180,000 expense reserve for Wayne LaPierre listed in the NRA’s bankruptcy filings was for estimated expenses incurred through the ILA budget in past years, with $12,000 set aside for 2020. (p.186-187)
  • Rowling testified that she first learned of the bankruptcy declaration in an NRA-wide email. (p.110-111)
  • Rowling testified that she has not had any conversations with departed CFO and Treasurer Craig Spray – who left the NRA suddenly – about her transition into the role as she’s “been kinda busy.” (p.108-109)