NEW ORLEANS -- Famed jazz musician Irvin Mayfield and his longtime friend and business partner Ronald Markham have defended transfers of more than $1 million in public library donations to their jazz orchestra by saying it built a cultural center in Central City.
But a federal grand jury indictment this week says none of the $1.4 million Mayfield and Markham transferred from the Public Library Foundation went to build the New Orleans Jazz Market. In fact, the indictment doesn’t mention the market, which opened in 2015, just before WWL-TV began questioning the use of library donations.
Instead, the indictment alleges Mayfield and Markham, as members of the Library Foundation board of directors, embarked on a scheme in 2011, in which they spent money donated by the public for the city’s libraries, and then sent emails and other “materially false and misleading correspondence” to other Library Foundation board members, auditors, investment account managers and even to board members at their own jazz orchestra, all intending to mislead them about the true reason for the transfers.
The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a nonprofit Mayfield founded in 2002, used more than $1 million in state tax money, other public grants from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and private loans and corporate donations to build and open the New Orleans Jazz Market in early 2015.
But a few months later, when WWL-TV exposed the library foundation transfers, Markham said the money was used legitimately, to build the Jazz Market and make it a new kind of music branch of the New Orleans Public Library system – in addition to a concert venue and bar.
“Those dollars went into this facility,” Markham said in WWL-TV’s report from May 5, 2015. “You look into the computer screens that are going to come in here. And this wood. It looks reclaimed and like it’s cheap. It’s not… Money, stuff. The seats, the lighting, the air conditioning. I mean, this is real stuff.”
Others at the Jazz Orchestra later echoed that, like NOJO Board Chairman Ron Forman.
“The documents say the money was spent properly,” Forman told WWL-TV in March 2016.
Forman did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Markham’s attorney, Sara Johnson, said declined to comment on the allegations in the indictment or on how it appears to contradict her client’s 2015 statements.
“I intend to try this case in court and not in the court of public opinion,” Johnson said.
Mayfield’s attorney, Chief Federal Public Defender Claude Kelly, similarly declined to comment on the specifics of the indictment prior to Mayfield and Markham’s initial public appearance in federal court, scheduled for Jan. 4.
Court observers were surprised to see the court appoint a public defender for Mayfield, who once drove a Maserati and sold his Fontainebleau neighborhood home for $553,000 on Oct. 31. But Kelly confirmed that Mayfield was declared indigent by the court.
“I’m wondering who’s (defending) Irvin Mayfield and I hear the public defender and I was surprised, because I thought the guy was a successful businessman and musician and he had funds,” said Pat Fanning, a former federal prosecutor and veteran white-collar defense attorney.
And the fact that Mayfield is officially ruled indigent could also prevent library donors from collecting restitution, Fanning said.
“If there is a conviction, restitution will be awarded,” he said. “How collectable it is, is another question. If the man’s qualifying for the public defender, I don’t think the man’s got the ability to write a check for hundreds of thousands or whatever the number is.”
Fanning said Kelly and Johnson are outstanding attorneys, but after reading the indictment, he thinks Mayfield and Markham will have a hard time fighting the charges.
“It’s hard to win these things if you’re a criminal defendant,” Fanning said. “But your job is made much more difficult if the indictment says you stole from charitable organizations, number one, and number two, if the government has something to show in front of the jury to give it some sex appeal, like $15,000 gold-plated trumpets coming from charitable funds, $1,100(-per-night) hotel rooms on Central Park with charitable funds.”
Documents first obtained by WWL-TV in 2016 showed the $15,000 trumpet Mayfield bought in 2012, as well as his use of more than $18,000 in library donations for rooms, meals, alcohol and limo rides at the Central Park Ritz-Carlton in New York. But the indictment goes further, listing multiple stays in swanky New York hotels totaling more than $55,000.
Other splashy spending alleged in the indictment included $20,000 for a shopping spree at Saks Fifth Avenue and $63,924 in two transfers to Carnegie Hall so Mayfield could play at the famed New York music venue.
Fanning said the amount of money involved means that Mayfield and Markham would likely face years in prison if convicted.
“It’s not going to be any slap on the wrist type of thing,” he said.
The indictment also alleges Mayfield sent $150,000 in library donations to another nonprofit where he was on the board, the Youth Rescue Initiative. The feds allege Mayfield then funneled that to himself and the Jazz Orchestra throughout 2012, even authorizing a $77,000 transfer in December 2012, after he had officially left the YRI board. That raised additional questions for Fanning.
“That's very curious to me, how Mayfield was able to do that,” Fanning said. “And in my experience reading indictments and in the past drafting indictments, if the charity was a victim and Mayfield abused his position by opening some account that they didn't know of, I think that would have been in the indictment. But the question remains, what was the involvement of the other charity and the people there?”
One of the people there was the president of the YRI at the time, former FBI Special Agent in Charge Jim Bernazzani. After Mayfield served on the YRI board, he made Bernazzani an advisory board member of the Public Library Foundation without any official board approval, according to comments made last year by the current Library Foundation chairman, Bob Brown.
WWL-TV asked Bernazzani about Mayfield’s transfers and his use of an “Irvin Account” at YRI last year, and he said the federal investigation would show "there's nothing there." WWL-TV called Bernazzani about the indictment Friday and did not hear back.
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