NRA Trial Day 12: Deeper Dive Into the NRA’s Relationship with Ackerman McQueen
Today in Court
The trial was delayed two hours this morning due to a juror absence. Around 11:30 AM, the New York Attorney General (“NYAG”) called longtime Ackerman McQueen employee William Winkler for testimony. After Mr. Winkler, the jury heard the conclusion of testimony from current NRA board president Charles Cotton. The NYAG has indicated that the next witness to testify will be CEO Wayne LaPierre.
Summary of Today’s Testimony
- William Winkler was first on the witness stand today. A longtime employee of NRA vendor Ackerman McQueen, Winkler was a key figure in the plan to purchase, with NRA funds, a Dallas mansion for the LaPierres. In a previous case, Winkler submitted a sworn declaration about his involvement in the plan, which can be viewed on NRA Watch here.
- Today, Winkler testified that he helped set up an entity called “WBB Investments”, of which the NRA was a 99% stakeholder, for the purpose of purchasing a “safe house” for Wayne and Susan LaPierre. Winkler testified he participated in a meeting in Dallas with LaPierre where they discussed creating WBB Investments, with the “goal” being to create “an entity that wasn’t tied to the NRA.” An initial $70,000 check was sent from the NRA to WBB Investments. Winkler testified that the anticipated cost of the “safe house” was $6 million.
- Winkler said the reason the purchase of the house fell through was because Susan LaPierre began asking questions about nearby country clubs where she could be a member. Winkler recalled thinking “that didn’t make any sense” for a place that was supposed to be a safe house, and where presumably one would want privacy and anonymity. Winkler said he raised this objection and then the deal died. Winkler authenticated a contemporaneous email from Susan LaPierre asking about social club memberships in the Dallas area.
- Winkler testified with first hand knowledge of the various out of pocket expenses that were billed to Ackerman McQueen and then passed through to the NRA. This included charges at the restaurant Landini Brothers, charges at cigar bars, large amounts of cash tips, credit cards issued to Tyler Schropp and Wayne LaPierre, and travel expenses billed by Gayle Stanford, among others. At one point, the NYAG introduced several receipts for thousands of dollars in hair and makeup expenses for Susan LaPierre, which Winkler confirmed were passed through and paid by the NRA. Winkler said the NRA promptly paid all these expenses and never objected to them being billed to the NRA.
- Winkler authenticated an email and attachment he sent to the NRA itemizing high-end suits from Zegna purchased by Wayne LaPierre. The charges totaled over $274,000 in clothing that Mr. LaPierre received for free (Ackerman paid, according to Winkler).
- On cross examination, counsel for LaPierre posed questions to Winkler about the need for LaPierre to look professional in the role, and that one could not show up in “bermuda shorts and t-shirt.” Winkler said he would get a heads up from then-Ackerman CEO Angus McQueen when LaPierre was going shopping, and was instructed not to send the bill to the NRA. He characterized the suits as “a gift” from Ackerman to LaPierre.
- Winkler’s testimony was that neither he nor Ackerman McQueen ever had cause to believe that these expenses were inappropriate or against NRA policy since the NRA would periodically come and audit Ackerman over the years.
- Winkler told the jury that there was a contract lawsuit between Ackerman and the NRA in federal court that ultimately resulted in a settlement payment from the NRA to Ackerman. Counsel for the defendants objected to the jury hearing the amount of the settlement.
- On cross-examination, counsel for the NRA asked questions attempting to elicit testimony that Ackerman was in violation of several provisions in its contract with the NRA, most notably the requirement that Ackerman receive written pre-approval for various expenses. Winkler did not dispute the language in the contract, but continuously stated that since the NRA kept incurring these charges and paying the pass-through invoices that Ackerman would send them, he never thought anything was improper.
- An interesting evidentiary dispute among the parties arose when counsel for the NRA attempted to play a leaked audio tape that surfaced just days before the trial began about pass-through expenses from Ackerman to the NRA. The NYAG and counsel for Woody Phillips (who is purportedly on the tape) objected citing a lack of foundation as to the authenticity of the tape. After the lunch break, the Judge ruled that the tape could not be played without the NRA further offering evidence as to the authenticity of the tape.
- Counsel for Wayne LaPierre focused his cross-examination – which was crisp and efficient – on establishing that Winkler had little interaction with LaPierre himself, and instead had most of his information about “what Wayne said” from Angus McQueen.
- Charles Cotton was the final witness to testify. Cotton testified about his responsibilities on the audit committee and said that he could not recall anyone ever criticizing his performance as chair of the committee.
- Cotton also testified that during defendant Wilson “Woody” Phillips’ tenure as NRA Treasurer and CFO that he had thought that Phillips “was doing a good job.”
- Of note, counsel for defendant John Frazer spent the better part of 30 minutes attempting to get various Audit Committee documents introduced into evidence. The Judge rejected these efforts, sustaining several evidentiary objections from the NYAG. Counsel then attempted to get a chart that Frazer had prepared dealing with various complaints raised at the NRA, only to have the NRA object successfully on privilege grounds.
The catastrophic implosion of the NRA’s decades’ long relationship with Ackerman McQueen was one of the inciting events that led to greater public scrutiny of the NRA’s operations and this trial. The testimony from Winkler, who previously testified in the NRA’s failed bankruptcy, directly explained the depth of that relationship and indirectly demonstrated the devastating result of its implosion: it corroborated much of the previous testimony and public reporting about how the NRA used Ackerman as a pass through for extravagant and potentially embarrassing financial transactions. For instance his testimony about the NRA’s aborted purchase of a Dallas mansion for the LaPierres aligned with years of public reporting.
After a recess on Thursday, the trial will resume on Friday morning. The NYAG has indicated in court that the next witness would be CEO Wayne LaPierre.