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Irvin Mayfield sentencing delayed; court may hear witnesses

Mayfield and his friend and partner Ronald Markham pleaded guilty Nov. 10 to conspiracy to defraud the city’s public library support charity out of $1.3 million.

NEW ORLEANS — Grammy-winning trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and his music and business partner won’t be sentenced this week for their November conviction on felony corruption charges, and a federal judge is considering whether to hear testimony in court before deciding on possible prison time for the duo.

Mayfield and his friend and partner Ronald Markham pleaded guilty Nov. 10 to conspiracy to defraud the city’s public library support charity out of $1.3 million, a conviction that carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Mayfield and Markham admitted they were guilty and signed documents in federal court stating that they took money from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation, which collects donations to help the city’s library system, and used those funds to pay their New Orleans Jazz Orchestra expenses and enrich themselves, then lied about it and falsified documents to cover it up.

But Mayfield’s attorney, federal public defender Claude Kelly, said after the guilty plea that they still had evidence to present to try to convince Judge Jay Zainey to impose a lesser sentence.

During a court conference last week, Zainey granted Kelly and Markham’s attorney, Sara Johnson, two weeks to present a list of witnesses who might vouch for the pair.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dall Kammer and his team will have until March 2 to present their own list of potential witnesses to testify at sentencing, at a date that’s not yet been set.

The U.S. Probation Office has already filed a draft sentencing report. Sentencing guidelines depend on several factors, including the amount of money involved. It’s not unusual for people to write letters to judges vouching for defendants’ character before they are sentenced, but hearing testimony from both sides before sentencing is less common.

Mayfield “will probably want to bring forth people to say he was of good character and maybe this was just a simple mistake,” said WWL-TV Legal Analyst Keva Landrum, a former state criminal court judge and district attorney. “And then the prosecution may want to bring people who they thought would have been their witnesses in the trial to say otherwise.”

It’s the latest delay in a high-profile case first exposed by WWL-TV nearly six years ago. The station’s exclusive investigation in 2015 and 2016 showed how Mayfield and partner Ronald Markham used their positions on the city’s public library support charity to transfer $1.3 million to the jazz orchestra Mayfield founded and where both men earned six-figure salaries.

The reports also showed how Mayfield spent Library Foundation money for lavish trips, including luxury hotels, meals, liquor and limo services.

In December 2017, a federal grand jury charged Mayfield and Markham with conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and false statements. The trial was delayed five times, initially by the duo’s challenges to aspects of the federal case in 2018 and 2019 and again in 2020 by the pandemic.

But over the summer, Mayfield and Markham quietly signed plea deals, agreeing to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit fraud.

Dixon Stetler, executive director of another public library support charity, Friends of the New Orleans Public Library, cheered Mayfield and Markham’s guilty pleas in November, saying it felt good to hear them say in court that they had lied and were guilty of a crime.

But she said she was disappointed by the delay in sentencing and concerned about what Mayfield and Markham will do to try to mitigate their punishment.

“I’d like to see them serve the maximum amount,” she said, adding that five years in prison “seems not much at all for the harm that they did and the lack of resources they caused the libraries. We are ready for some closure and to finally move on.”

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