NEW ORLEANS – In two of his years in charge of the New Orleans Public Library Foundation, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield spent $133,000 in library donations on airfare and swanky hotel rooms.
Those include three stays at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C.; four different visits to the Ritz Central Park in New York; one to the Ritz South Beach in Miami; and even a $529 charge at the Ritz in Mayfield’s hometown of New Orleans, among others in 2012.
This new information comes out as an investigative report written by the Library Foundation’s attorneys in September 2015 was finally released.
The report looks into the allegations in a May 2015 story by WWL-TV that showed how Mayfield and his business partner directed around $1 million to the Jazz Orchestra that Mayfield founded and that paid both of their salaries.
Before the attorneys’ report was released, WWL-TV had already exposed some of Mayfield’s more eye-popping travel bills – the $18,713 tab he racked up on a single visit to the Central Park Ritz Carlton, for instance. In June, new Library Foundation Presdient Bob Brown said there was no evidence any of that spending was related any library-related purpose and disclosed that the new Library Foundation board had sent a demand letter to Mayfield to recover the money.
Shortly after the TV station’s report, Mayfield resigned from the Jazz Orchestra.
Brown called the rest of the travel spending “extravagant,” but said it can’t be recovered because it can’t be proven it was not for legitimate library fundraising efforts.
Mayfield is credited by many for being the city libraries’ biggest champion during his years as city library board chairman and then as head of the Library Foundation. But that image has changed with a stream of revelations about how he redirected money meant for libraries toward other organizations. And Brown, who initially refrained from direct criticism, has not minced words recently about how Mayfield took a nonprofit with a public purpose and redirected its mission to support his own interests.
“It’s not our money, it wasn’t that board’s money, it wasn’t Irvin Mayfield’s money, Ron Forman’s money. It was the people’s money,” Brown said at this week’s Public Library Board meeting.
Ron Forman is the chairman of the nonprofit Jazz Orchestra, which used the library money to help build its $10 million Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market in Central City.
The report makes clear that the five-member board when Mayfield ran it should have included at least one member of the city’s public library board, the head of the nonprofit Library Committee and the city librarian. None of the five board members held those positions when they voted to change the foundation’s mission beyond just supporting the public libraries.
When WWL-TV asked Brown at the public meeting this week if that might nullify or void the actions of the board to expand its mission and its broader spending thereafter, Brown said he would look into it and report back to the Library Board.
Brown said he recognizes that the all-new Library Foundation board he has run since Mayfield’s departure is “tainted” by the controversy, so he said it was time to lay bare as many of the improprieties as possible. To that end, he also disclosed to the city board that the attorneys and some employees of the Library Foundation have recently been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
As WWL-TV previously reported, the internal investigation report from the Library Foundation says Mayfield sent $150,000 from the Library Foundation to the Youth Rescue Initiative, another nonprofit board he served on that was led by former FBI Special Agent in Charge Jim Bernazzani.
But there were some new details in the report. It says all the money that came from the Library Foundation went into something called the “Irvin Account” at the Youth Rescue Initiative.
The “Irvin Account” then paid $45,000 to Mayfield’s Jazz Orchestra in November 2012, a transaction that was disclosed on the foundation’s tax return. But the investigative report says another $77,000 also went to the Jazz Orchestra a month later, something that was not disclosed to the IRS.
Another $15,000 from the “Irvin Account” was used to purchase a trumpet from noted Oregon instrument maker Monette Corp. The report says Mayfield’s attorney claimed the trumpet was donated to a school for a raffle, but a school official told Jazz Orchestra attorney Pauline Hardin that he didn’t know anything about that.
The report concludes: “It is uncertain where the $15,000 trumpet is located. It’s reasonable to presume it’s in the possession of Mayfield.”
WWL-TV asked Mayfield and his attorney about the allegations in the report but did not get a response.
Brown said Mayfield was allowed to get away with such spending because of a “symbiotic” relationship with Bernazzani.
“Mayfield was on Bernazzani’s board, the Youth Rescue Initiative board, and through actions that were completely not authorized through bylaws, articles of incorporation, motions by the board or anything, Jim Bernazzani was made an advisory member of the Public Library Foundation,” Brown said at the public library board meeting.
After listening to Brown’s detailed review of the report, Library Board Chairman Bernard Charbonnet said he wanted review the report before drawing any conclusions.
“I err on the side of caution before commenting, particularly about someone’s reputation,” he said.
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