NEW ORLEANS — Even as they prepare to pay $1.1 million in restitution for illegally transferring money from the city’s public library charity to their jazz orchestra, musicians Irvin Mayfield and Ronald Markham are getting support from top local officials.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell, whose administration runs the library system, and Sheriff Marlin Gusman, the top elected law enforcement official in the city, both stood in front of a crowd at the Magnolia Mansion during a sold-out Mayfield performance Saturday and extolled the Grammy winner.
“It is so beautiful to see your faces, taking those masks off,” Cantrell said from the stage, with Markham and other members of Mayfield’s band standing behind her. “So, let’s continue to support one another. And more importantly, let’s continue to support a true son of the city of New Orleans, Irvin Mayfield.”
Cantrell’s comments were captured on a cellphone video and posted on Facebook by freelance journalist James Terrell.
The show of support, particularly from Cantrell, shocked and angered Dixon Stetler, executive director of the Friends of the New Orleans Public Library.
“I don't understand,” she said. “He pled guilty to taking $1.3 million and I don't understand why we have to support him…. There are so many culture bearers in this city who deserve our support who aren't stealing from the library.”
Stetler said the mayor's message is particularly confusing for voters, who rejected Cantrell's attempt to shift money away from the libraries last year and are now being asked to renew a library tax this fall.
As a community leader after Hurricane Katrina, Cantrell pushed for the rebuilding of public libraries. As a city councilwoman, she said it was critical to pass a new tax doubling the dedicated money for the library system. But she wanted voters to move most of the original library tax to other city programs last year, which was soundly defeated.
Cantrell is running for reelection this fall with a full renewal of the library tax on the ballot. That’s why WWL Political Analyst Clancy DuBos said the mayor needs to clarify what she meant by "support" for Mayfield.
“If she means to support him musically, the way we like to support all of our very talented musicians, of which Irvin Mayfield is certainly one, I think people are fine with that,” DuBos said.
But when WWL-TV asked the Mayor to explain, a spokeswoman said, "No comment."
A spokesman for Gusman said he had nothing to add.
Stetler attended Mayfield and Markham’s court hearing in November when they stood in front of Judge Jay Zainey and said they were guilty of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. She said she had been waiting to hear them say those words, ever since WWL-TV first exposed the transfers and lavish spending by Mayfield and Markham in 2015. She said she hoped Zainey would sentence them to a maximum of five years in prison.
But Mayfield’s attorney, federal public defender Claude Kelly, said there was more to the case than “the headline.” He said Mayfield was "really looking forward to being able to present the full picture -- accepting full responsibility -- but present the full picture to Judge Zainey before he makes his final decision."
Since then, Mayfield and Markham have been seeking to present witnesses and offering a report from their accountant, apparently in an attempt to show they deserve a lighter sentence. This week, they asked the court to let them begin paying $1.1 million in restitution into a court account prior to their sentencing.
Zainey has repeatedly agreed to push back sentencing and hasn’t set a new sentencing date.
Mayfield and Markham have also been re-emerging as artists recently after the scandal forced them to resign from the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and its New Orleans Jazz Market and the Royal Sonesta Hotel ended its deal to host Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse.
Mayfield, with Markham and others in his band, has been playing regular gigs at the Magnolia Mansion Hotel in the Garden District.
The Magnolia Mansion’s owner, Fouad Zeton, is a former boxing champion and active political donor who took the microphone from Cantrell at her primary election celebration in 2017, put his championship belt around her and declared her “our new champion for the mayor of the city of New Orleans.”
Zeton told WWL-TV he recently leased the hotel to Cydney Hedgpeth, a musician who is partners with Mayfield and Markham in a venture called Blackhouse Music. Zeton referred to Hedgpeth as Mayfield’s “wife.”
Zeton said Mayfield is not a part of the partnership with Hedgpeth and her partner in New York to run the hotel. But Zeton said Mayfield is an “employee” who has been playing shows there every weekend for the last two months.
The hotel was raided by FBI agents Wednesday, who seized artwork and documents. Zeton said he didn’t know why the agents had a search warrant but told WWL-TV it had nothing to do with Mayfield.
WWL-TV called the hotel and left a message for Hedgpeth on Wednesday but did not hear back.
A reference to comments made by Marlin Gusman was removed from this story based on new information provided by Gusman on July 16. New information can be viewed in the story link below.