NEW ORLEANS - Irvin Mayfield, the Grammy-winning trumpeter who became a key cultural figure after Hurricane Katrina, was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday along with his longtime partner Ronald Markham.
The 19 federal counts against Mayfield and Markham include one count of conspiracy, four counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy, 11 counts of money laundering and one count of obstruction of justice.
The criminal charges come more than two-and-a-half years after WWL-TV began a series of investigative reports exposing how Mayfield had used his position running the city’s public library support charity to funnel money to a jazz orchestra he founded, to another nonprofit bank account he controlled and, in some cases, to directly feed his lavish lifestyle.
Thursday's indictment closely tracks the spending of library donations detailed in the WWL reports. It alleges that Mayfield and Markham began a conspiracy in August 2011 by transmitting money from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation to accounts they controlled at the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, including to help pay their salaries, Mayfield's production company and travel expenses, including swanky hotel stays in New York.
As WWL-TV first reported last year, $15,000 in library donations paid for a gold-plated trumpet for Mayfield, and the indictment lists that as one of the acts of the alleged conspiracy. It also alleges another $66,000 was transferred to pay Mayfield, of which $23,000 was allegedly spent at Saks Fifth Avenue and $2,000 at Harrah's Casino, and $25,000 Mayfield allegedly used to pay a fee to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Tens of thousands more allegedly paid for NOJO's operating expenses, depleting the library foundation's limited funds for supporting public libraries to bolster a NOJO bottom-line that had been losing money steadily.
When former Mayor Ray Nagin appointed Mayfield to lead the city's Library Board and then to the Library Foundation, the mayor was also using city-controlled Wisner Trust funds to give grants to NOJO. After Nagin, who is serving a 10-year federal prison term for corruption in office, the Wisner grants stopped going to NOJO, and the indictment alleges that's when Mayfield and Markham "began a search for new sources of funding."
The indictment alleges Mayfield and Markham gave false or misleading statements to Library Foundation board members and others to cover up the conspiracy. An obstruction of justice charge alleges they and others altered the minutes of Library Foundation meetings in 2013 to try to influence an FBI investigation launched based on a tip from the Metropolitan Crime Commission and New Orleans Inspector General's Office.
The court appointed Mayfield a public defender, Claude Kelly, who questioned the timing of the indictments.
"I was very disappointed in the government for their timing," Kelly said. "To purposefully and intentionally bring this 10 days before Christmas, for a devoted New Orleanian, father of three young kids, and Ronald Markham, who has two young kids - it was kind of mean-spirited. We asked them to hold off until after the Christmas holidays but whatever their motivations I can't fathom, under than meanness, they decided to proceed today."
Kelly highlighted Mayfield's public service after Hurricane Katrina. Mayfield played a gold- and jewel-encrusted trumpet for presidents and foreign dignitaries, appeared in "We're Jazzed You're Here" advertisements for the city and served on many nonprofit boards. The special trumpet was stored under armed guard and named the Elysian Trumpet after Mayfield's father was found drowned on Elysian Fields Avenue in the flood.
"As the public knows, Irvin Mayfield is a devoted New Orleanian," Kelly said. "He lost his father in Katrina and he has devoted himself, the city called on him to in effect be the ambassador for the city to really help... he's been the face of the drive for the rebirth of New Orleans and he's been a tireless advocate for that."
Mayfield rose to prominence on the local music scene in the late 1990s, was appointed as the city’s cultural ambassador and chairman of the public library board by former Mayor Ray Nagin and took over as president of the library’s nonprofit support foundation in 2008. At the time, the New Orleans Public Library Foundation existed solely to receive donations and dole out financial support for the city’s historically underfunded public libraries, but Mayfield quickly made moves to change that.
By 2012, Mayfield had convinced the organization's five-member board to expand the nonprofit’s mission to provide more general community support and to give himself "sole and uncontrolled discretion" over its finances.
Even before the board took official action to expand the library foundation’s mission, the charity started sending large amounts of money to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, another nonprofit established and directed by Mayfield. NOJO also paid Mayfield a six-figure salary and tens of thousands more each year to Mayfield’s private production company.
From 2011 to 2014, the Library Foundation tapped into donations meant for the city’s libraries and gave NOJO more than $1.1 million in grants to help it build a new community center, music venue and bar in Central City called the New Orleans Jazz Market. Mayfield justified the grants, which exceeded the Library Foundation’s payments to the entire city library system, by claiming the Jazz Market would serve as a specialized music library branch.
One of the five Library Foundation board members that voted to give Mayfield total control over those financial decisions was Mayfield’s business partner and childhood friend, Ronald Markham, who, like Mayfield, also commanded a six-figure salary from the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Another was Dan Forman, who signed a document changing the foundation’s articles of incorporation in 2014. Forman is the son of Audubon Institute CEO Ron Forman, who was serving at the time as the chairman of the NOJO board that received the money.
Library Foundation documents show only one of the five foundation board members ever questioned the payments to NOJO.
WWL-TV’s initial report in May 2015 set off an immediate firestorm. Mayor Mitch Landrieu cleaned house at the Library Foundation, replacing Mayfield, Markham and others with a completely new board.
Mayfield lost his public teaching post at the University of New Orleans, NOJO agreed to pay back the Library Foundation over five years and Mayfield canceled most of his local appearances.
In 2016, WWL-TV obtained an internal report by the new Library Foundation’s attorneys showing that Mayfield had also sent $150,000 in library donations to an “Irvin Account” at another nonprofit called the Youth Rescue Initiative. The report found Mayfield spent $15,000 of that money on a single trumpet, ostensibly to donate it to a local school, but the Library Foundation attorneys alleged Mayfield likely kept the instrument for himself.
WWL-TV obtained documents showing Mayfield spent another $18,713 in Library Foundation money on a single weeklong stay at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on New York’s Central Park. The Ritz billed NOJO for Mayfield’s $1,100-per-night hotel room, his NOJO assistant’s $800-a-night room, a half-dozen limo rides, meals at the hotel restaurant including a $1,400 charge for a single breakfast and in-room alcohol charges, but Mayfield used the library money to pay for it all.
Two weeks after that report, the NOJO board forced Mayfield to resign as artistic director of his own orchestra. Only then did Mayfield give his first public comment on the matter after 14 months of steady reports by WWL, most of which were published nationally by the affiliated USAToday Network.
“I do not believe that I have violated any law,” Mayfield said in a written statement on July 5, 2016. “If I played a role in creating a distraction from NOJO’s mission, I sincerely apologize. I respect all those who may not agree with my past direction or personal judgment, as I recognize their passion as well. We did not anticipate the misunderstandings and resulting opposition that has been wrought upon ourselves and those who have supported us.”
At that point, NOJO stopped performing entirely. Mayfield and Markham, a keyboardist, stayed mostly out of public view, recording a new studio album, before returning to the Jazz Fest stage in 2017 to play a new kind of experimental music.
The federal investigation, which began in 2013 with a tip from the Metropolitan Crime Commission, intensified in 2017. Key members of the Library Foundation and NOJO boards were interviewed or subpoenaed, agents from the FBI and the New Orleans Inspector General’s Office asked questions at library branches and the state Legislative Auditor began a separate probe.
As the feds closed in, Mayfield tried to sell the large Fontainebleau neighborhood home where he often held extravagant parties for the Uptown elite. It initially listed for more than $700,000. He finally sold it Oct. 31 for $553,333, barely more than he paid for it in 2012.
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