NEW ORLEANS -- A few weeks ago, when Irvin Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra formally agreed to pay back $1.1 million in public library donations, the Jazz Orchestra considered the matter “closed.”
But WWL-TV has learned the Public Library Foundation is now demanding payback of an additional $150,000 that Mayfield directed from the library charity to his Jazz Orchestra, this time routed through a third nonprofit where Mayfield also sat on the board.
The third nonprofit, the Youth Rescue Initiative, is run by Jim Bernazzani, the former head of the FBI field office in New Orleans. The centerpieces of the Youth Rescue Initiative are called Illumination Centers, described by the nonprofit’s website as “safe havens for at-risk youth to learn and develop computer skills.”
Library Foundation minutes and emails show that with Mayfield at the helm, the city’s public library charity started a partnership with the Youth Rescue Initiative to set up the Illumination Centers. Federal tax records show the Youth Rescue Initiative, in turn, sent a $45,000 grant to the Jazz Orchestra. The orchestra pays Mayfield and his business partner, Ronald Markham, each six-figure salaries.
Other tax records suggest that more than $60,000 was later spent by Youth Rescue Initiative to set up two Illumination Centers, one at Success Preparatory Academy, a K-8 school in Treme, and the other in a corner of the Jazz Orchestra’s $10 million New Orleans Jazz Market in Central City.
“And the common denominator is Irvin Mayfield,” said Rafael Goyeneche, whose Metropolitan Crime Commission began investigating the payments from the Library Foundation to the Jazz Orchestra in 2013. “He is on the Library Foundation board. He is on the Youth Rescue Initiative board. And he’s employed by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.”
The new Library Foundation board has already sent demand letters to both Bernazzani and Mayfield for the return of the $150,000 of foundation money that was paid to the Youth Rescue Initiative, said Bob Brown, who took over as president of the Library Foundation after WWL-TV exposed the payments from one entity controlled by Mayfield and Markham to another.
“The letters were returned unopened,” Brown said. “Now that we have confected and executed a (documented agreement) with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for repayment of the entire amount donated to NOJO, we can focus on the $150,000 donated to YRI and our attempt to confect a similar (agreement) with YRI, James Bernazzani and Irvin Mayfield for repayment of the $150,000.”
Sources with knowledge of the demand letters say that the Library Foundation believes part of the money sent to the YRI was used to pay Oregon-based instrument maker Monette for a trumpet. Monette crafted a gold and jewel-encrusted horn for the City of New Orleans and gave it to Mayfield in 2007, but the company said Tuesday that it made a separate, less ornate trumpet for Mayfield in 2012.
“People that gave money to the Library Foundation for the New Orleans libraries are now learning that a portion of their gifts was used to pay for a … musical instrument,” Goyeneche said. “That has to infuriate those donors.”
Mayfield has played the Elysian Trumpet for former President George W. Bush and traveled around the world with it, always with an armed guard from the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office protecting it. The sheriff’s office has said it keeps no records of payments to its deputies for guarding the trumpet because the job is a private detail and deputies performing it are off-duty.
There are several problems with public documentation of the $150,000 donation from the Library Foundation to the YRI.
First, the Library Foundation’s tax return for 2012 says $100,000 was paid to the YRI for a “book drive.”
In an interview with WWL-TV, Bernazzani said he didn’t know what the book drive was. He then declined to comment further because there is a pending criminal investigation, although he said that when the investigation is over it will show that “there’s nothing there.”
Another problem is that an initial donation of $50,000 from the Library Foundation to the YRI was made in December 2011, but there’s no mention of it on either the Library Foundation’s or the YRI’s 2011 tax return. In fact, the Library Foundation’s IRS Form 990 states that all $831,546 it spent outside the organization in 2011 went to the New Orleans Public Library system.
Several sources and internal Library Foundation emails say that is not the case. In fact, an email sent by former Library Foundation board member Scott Cunningham on Aug. 24, 2012, three days before the 2011 tax return was filed, says that almost half of the money paid to other entities actually went to the Jazz Orchestra.
Cunningham’s email explicitly raises concerns about the lack of explanation for $375,000 the Library Foundation sent directly to the Jazz Orchestra in 2011.
“While I do not at all suspect any impropriety, I would recommend enhancing Note 9 to include what the $375,000 will go to cover in a bit more detail,” Cunningham wrote after Mayfield had asked him and the three other Library Foundation board members to review and approve a draft audit and a 2011 tax form.
“Given that over 40 percent of our annual expenses went to the NOJO, I believe it would throw up a red flag to a casual reader unaware of the details of the Illumination Center and Special Collections partnerships.”
On subsequent tax returns, the Library Foundation acknowledged the $100,000 payment to YRI and $863,000 in grants to the Jazz Orchestra, as well as Mayfield and Markham’s dual roles with both the library charity and the orchestra. But the large 2011 payments are never publicly reported.
The payments also appear to have been made before the Library Foundation formally expanded its mission beyond supporting the city’s public libraries to take in a broader mission of backing programs to benefit the community more generally.
Cunningham declined to comment to WWL-TV about his email, also citing the ongoing federal investigation.
Several sources also confirm that they were interviewed recently by the FBI and other federal agencies.
Goyeneche says the investigation appears to be heading toward a conclusion, which could be good news for all of the nonprofits involved. Library donors are already angry about the recent payback agreement, which says the Jazz Orchestra only has to give back $483,000 of the $1.1 million to the Library Foundation in cash over five years; the rest can be paid back with in-kind contributions, such as hosting benefit concerts.
“I don’t see how the Library Foundation can look a donor in the eye and ask them to give money for the New Orleans libraries,” Goyeneche said. “I don’t see how people being solicited to give money to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra could give them another nickel until this investigation is concluded.”
Meanwhile, the YRI appears to be in dire financial straits. Bernazzani took a $100,000 salary as YRI president in 2011, when the nonprofit raised $323,000 and had $118,000 in net assets. But his salary was cut to zero in 2013, and YRI ended 2014 with a total of just $38,000 in donations and $54,000 in net assets.