NEW ORLEANS – The FBI is seeking information from the New Orleans Public Library as it continues its investigation into jazz musician Irvin Mayfield, Eyewitness News has learned.
Library spokesman John Marc Sharpe confirmed an FBI agent and an investigator from the Inspector General’s office paid a visit to the Central City library branch on Jackson Avenue Wednesday. That visit was part of the ongoing investigation into Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Market, Sharpe said.
FBI spokesman Craig Betbeze declined to comment.
It’s been almost two years since Eyewitness News broke the story that the FBI was investigating the money Mayfield and his business partner, Ronald Markham, funneled from the Library Foundation to the Jazz Orchestra they ran. They each served as president of the nonprofit Library Foundation as it was sending more than $1.1 million to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, where they each made six-figure salaries.
At the time, Markham said he and Mayfield believed it was OK to use the library donations on the $10 million Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market because it would serve in part as a library in an underserved section of the city.
But the Central City Library Branch, inside the Mahalia Jackson Center, has been open since November 2010, a year before Mayfield and Markham started transferring the money.
The Jazz Market also contains a bar, an "illumination center" created in partnership with another Mayfield-affiliated nonprofit and a large auditorium for performances.
The FBI visit shows the case is still active after months of quiet. And it's been almost five years since Mayfield had the Library Foundation board give him exclusive power over spending, which could be a crucial deadline for the federal investigators.
WWL-TV first reported the federal investigation in the spring of 2015 and later confirmed that federal prosecutors had met with attorneys for the Library Foundation. Later, WWL-TV uncovered more questionable spending by Mayfield, including an $18,700 bill for a hotel stay for him and his jazz orchestra assistant at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Central Park in New York that Mayfield had the Library Foundation pay. The bill included a $1,400 breakfast tab, in-room liquor purchases and limousine service.
Another $15,000 was spent from an "Irvin Account" at the Youth Rescue Initiative nonprofit on a trumpet. After WWL-TV reported on those expenses, Mayfield was forced to resign from the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a nonprofit he founded.
Mayfield has largely dropped off the local scene since the stories emerged, ending a jazz club partnership at the Royal Sonesta Hotel and refusing several requests to be interviewed by WWL-TV. He recently put his large Spanish revival-style home in the Fountainbleau neighborhood up for sale.
Bob Brown, the man who took over the Library Foundation when Mayfield and Markham were forced to resign, said he has gotten no response from demand letters to Mayfield seeking repayment. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, continuing to operate without its founder, made its first annual payment of $96,000 to begin paying back $433,000, the portion of the money transferred by Mayfield and Markham without documentation.
The Jazz Orchestra agreed to pay back another $670,000 in the form of fundraising concerts, but so far it has not held any such events, Brown said.
Fundraising has been difficult for all of the entities involved, even some that are connected to the library but not involved in the scandal. Dixon Stetler, president of Friends of the New Orleans Public Library, recently sent a letter to the city library board complaining that the Mayfield scandal is continuing to hurt their efforts to help the city library system.