NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre’s Misleading Testimony on Free Bahamas Yacht Travel
This story was published in partnership with The Trace, a nonprofit news organization covering guns in America.
On July 9, 2013, Colleen Sterner, the niece of National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, received an email from a manager of the Weddings and Special Affairs division of Atlantis, a popular family resort on Paradise Island. “It gives me great pleasure to provide you with the contract for your wedding at our incredible resort!” Said the email. Sterner and her future husband, Terry, had booked the Simply Love plan, with a venue upgrade for their ceremony. It would be held a week later, at a neighboring, more upscale property. The couple planned to exchange vows through the 12th-century Augustinian cloisters that had been transported to the site and completed in the sixties.
On the wedding day, July 16, there was rain and lightning, and the wedding took place indoors at Atlantis. Sterner wore a white, jeweled-necked cocktail dress in a ceremony she described in a statement as “petite” and “private.” LaPierre and his wife, Susan, were among the guests. The event was part of a trip in which the LaPierre and Sterners sailed the Caribbean on a luxury yacht provided free of charge by an NRA contractor.
In 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA over a self-operation model that included LaPierre’s alleged acceptance of lavish gifts from entrepreneurs. When asked about the yacht trip, LaPierre did not disclose the marriage. Instead, he testified under oath that he used the boat that summer because his life was in imminent danger. He said the trip – the first of six annual summer yacht trips to the Bahamas from 2013 to 2018 – was a “safety retreat” and the only way for him to be safe after the mass shooting. at Sandy Hook Elementary School. LaPierre explained that he was under “presidential threat without presidential security” and that the boat “was being offered” as a refuge. When he finally got to the yacht, he remembered thinking, “Thank goodness I’m safe, no one can bring me here.”
Internal NRA documents, other documents and interviews with former staff suggest that LaPierre has repeatedly made misleading and possibly false statements under oath about the yacht and her niece. LaPierre testified that Sterner, whom he hired at the NRA, was a full employee in the organization, but former colleagues, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, say she has does little work.
Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law, said LaPierre’s testimony could strengthen the attorney general’s legal case against the NRA “The real risk with lies under oath, if they can be demonstrated, is that a jury or judge will conclude that the person who lied had something more to hide and knew it. What they said will then become evidence against them, âGillers explained. “If LaPierre knowingly gave false testimony, it would be additional ammunition for the GA’s efforts to dissolve the NRA”
The organization disputed numerous allegations by the Attorney General and brought forward counterclaims against James for alleged violation of his constitutional rights. The nonprofit maintains it is committed to “good governance” and, in recent tax returns, has revealed that LaPierre has reimbursed most of the travel expenses that the NRA has so far deemed inappropriate and intends to repay the rest. In October, its board of directors elected LaPierre for his thirty-first one-year term as CEO. organization in its legal fight with James, said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is reckless and misleading.” He added that, “in the opinion of the NRA”, LaPierre “honors all of his professional obligations to the association, by operating with transparency and by committing to good governance”. In a statement provided by the NRA, Sterner said, “I have no idea why there is such a fixation on my marriage, but it seems personally harassing to me.”
For nearly a decade, LaPierre did not list free yacht travel on the NRA’s internal disclosure forms, as required by organization rules and New York state law. Instead, he only did so this spring, the same day he was scheduled to testify before a judge for the first time. According to a charity auction brochure, a four-night cruise on the one hundred and eight-foot yacht – which has four cabins, a slide and a hydraulic bathing platform – is worth more than seventy-five thousand dollars . In a deposition, LaPierre explained that because he viewed the yacht as a “safety issue with my family, with myself”, he had not viewed it as “a conflict at the time.”
The yacht’s owner, David McKenzie, was a close confidant of LaPierre and a longtime NRA entrepreneur. For twenty years, the pro-gun group paid McKenzie’s production company Associated Television International millions of dollars for “Crime Strike,” a reenactment show on cable television that featured LaPierre as host. Between 2011 and 2020, according to tax returns, the NRA also paid some seventy million dollars to two fundraising companies that are at least in part owned by McKenzie’s wife, according to company documents that ‘she signed. McKenzie told me that he had nothing to do with the two companies and that his wife had no role in their operation. âIt’s a long story of how it all happened,â he said. “It was essentially a passive investment, and it has nothing to do with it either.”
The contracts obtained by The Trace and The New Yorker for one of the companies, Allegiance Creative Group, were signed by LaPierre. The first extension was signed in November 2013, four months after Sterner’s marriage. In his testimony, LaPierre claimed he was not involved in contract negotiations with companies related to McKenzie’s wife. The NRA told me that LaPierre never reviewed the entity registration documents.
LaPierre also testified that for about ten or twelve years the NRA decided that he should always “travel privately, whether on business or in a personal capacity.” The organization’s security director, added LaPierre, “was adamant about it, based on what he saw in terms of harassment and threats.” But the NRA told me that the LaPierre and Sterners made a commercial flight to the Bahamas in July 2013 and then boarded the yacht. Former NRA staff said Sterner initially posted photos of her wedding to Facebook and deleted them in recent years. Several months ago, the “recordings” section of Sterner’s Facebook page, as well as that of her husband, in July 2013 contained references to Atlantis. These references have also disappeared. When asked why, the NRA said it “does not comment on the practices of its employees on social media.”
Sterner is like a LaPierre girl, according to former NRA staff. The couple married in 1998, but never had children. Sterner comes from Susan’s family side. When she and her husband had a daughter in 2014, they gave her the middle name Susan. A year later, according to the attorney general’s complaint, at Susan’s request, LaPierre hired Sterner, then in his mid-thirties, to work for the NRA’s Women’s Leadership Forum. Susan was technically a volunteer, with the title of “co-chair,” but she ran the company, which cultivates wealthy donors. Each year, the WLF hosts expensive lunches and retreats at some of the major hotels and resorts in the United States.
Sterner received expensive benefits, including private jet flights, which were not available to his colleagues. In his testimony, LaPierre testified that his niece was a key employee and that the expenses were for a legitimate business purpose. But former staff members who worked on WLF events found Sterner’s role bewildering. They remember that she occasionally did menial tasks assigned to her, like ordering flowers, but most of the time she just wasn’t there.
Tyler Schropp, who oversees NRA fundraising efforts involving wealthy donors, defended his niece’s LaPierre job. He said Sterner is an “extraordinary and valued employee” who manages “national events that positively impact the NRA, its members and its mission.” In 2015, the year he was hired, Sterner attended a WLF summit at Broadmoor, a stylish five-star resort in Colorado Springs. Sterner also brought his daughter, who was then an infant, to the event. NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam said Sterner “played a leading role in the production” of the case. Still, one of the summit organizers told me, âI had never met Colleen before the event started, but Susan had mentioned that she would be on staff. She wasn’t working at headquarters, and she wasn’t on the planning calls or the regular meetings we had. His status was never clear to me.
Internal NRA records show that Sterner was given half a dozen basic responsibilities, such as providing “recording support as needed” and serving as a point of contact for snare shooting activity. and skeet. Several people who worked at the summit said it was often difficult to locate Sterner. At one point, they said, she was unavailable due to a private photoshoot with her daughter and two photographers from Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s public relations firm at the time. NRA spokesperson Arulanandam defended the photoshoot. “While a few personal photos have been taken, it is neither inappropriate nor extravagant,” he said.
Since being hired by the NRA, Sterner has lived in Nebraska, far from the association’s headquarters near Washington. Schropp, the NRA’s fundraising manager, said Sterner was involved in a number of tasks such as “event planning, administrative issues and other projects that contributed to the success of the WLF.” . LaPierre authorized the NRA to pay for a private flight from Dallas to Nebraska for Sterner and her husband. The plane ticket cost the organization more than eleven thousand dollars. When LaPierre was asked about it in a court hearing, he said there were a limited number of commercial flights to the family’s remote corner. âOur annual meeting was coming up there. She was working on the Women’s Leadership Forum with people in Dallas and. . . this is the advantage of the NRA to have it. . . do this work.