NEW ORLEANS – Grammy-winning trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and his longtime friend and business partner were back in federal court Monday, pleading not guilty to four new fraud and money laundering counts on top of the 19 felony charges a grand jury handed up against them in December.
Mayfield and partner Ronald Markham again pleaded not guilty at Monday’s arraignment, just as they had to the original charges in January. The government did not ask for a new bond and they were released to continue their music careers as they await an October trial date.
Mayfield’s less famous partner, Ronald Markham, walked in and out of court with his attorney for Monday’s hearing and proudly flashed a copy of Mayfield’s latest album.
But Mayfield, who was declared indigent and appointed a federal public defender, managed for the second time to avoid the cameras and get in and out of public defender Claude Kelly’s office without being seen.
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Kelly did address reporters after Mayfield and Markham’s arraignment, claiming the prosecutors added the charges as a “distraction,” shortly before hitting a five-year deadline for filing them.
“Do you really believe the government took four years … and 360 days to bring these new charges? This is just a way for them to keep it in the news,” Kelly said.
WWL-TV’s exclusive investigation in 2015 and 2016 first exposed more than $1 million Mayfield and Markham transferred from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation, the city’s public library charity, when they were in charge of it. That money went to other nonprofits Mayfield and Markham ran, including the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, where they each made six-figure salaries.
In 2015, Markham told us the money went to build the New Orleans Jazz Market in Central City, but WWL-TV found documents showing tens of thousands went to pay for lavish hotel stays, limo rides, alcohol, a $15,000 gold-plated trumpet and even a $1,400 breakfast at the Ritz Carlton New York.
A federal grand jury indicted Mayfield and Markham in December, accusing them of using the public’s donations to city libraries to cover more than $1.3 million in personal Jazz Orchestra expenses, including four fancy New York hotel stays, that gold-plated trumpet, performance fees at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall, shopping sprees and their own salaries.
Last month’s new charges tack on another $140,000 in transfers, including a fifth fancy New York hotel stay totaling more than $12,700 and a $20,000 booking fee for a show in Chicago.
Kelly and Markham’s attorney, Sara Johnson, have been arguing since January the original indictment should be dismissed because WWL-TV reported its existence Dec. 14 as soon as it was filed with the court clerk. They claim the timing of the indictment was “leaked” to WWL-TV.
Federal prosecutors stated in court filings that an employee in their office did speak to a WWL-TV reporter about possible timing of an indictment shortly before it happened, but Magistrate Judge Janis van Meerveld ruled in May that such a revelation “would not be sufficient to result in a dismissal of the indictment.”
Still, an internal Department of Justice investigation into the matter continues, according to recent court filings. Kelly questioned why that has taken seven months and wondered if the findings would be made public. The U.S Attorney’s Office did not respond to WWL-TV’s questions about the investigation Monday.
David Hammer can be reached at email@example.com.