NEW ORLEANS – More questions emerged Wednesday about Grammy-winning trumpeter Irvin Mayfield's use of public library donations, the day after a WWL-TV investigation exposed huge payments from one Mayfield-run entity to another.
On Tuesday, the station reported that Mayfield and his employee, Ronald Markham, had used positions on the New Orleans Public Library Foundation board to send about $863,000 to a jazz orchestra that Mayfield founded and that pays six-figure salaries to both Mayfield and Markham.
The money helped build the $10 million New Orleans Jazz Market that just opened in Central City. The jazz market project also received $1.1 million in taxpayer money from the State Legislature in 2013.
Now, a woman who set up a nonprofit for laid-off newspaper employees in 2012 alleges that she had to return a $5,000 donation from Mayfield when she learned it had come from the Library Foundation's account, not his personal money or anything from his New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, or NOJO, as he had pledged.
Meanwhile, the head of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission said he has already referred financial records and other documents detailing Mayfield's actions to "the proper authorities" for an investigation.
Rebecca Theim has a particularly personal reaction to the WWL-TV report Tuesday because it raised an uncomfortable memory for her.
She started DashTHIRTYDash as an employee assistance fund for the 200 Times-Picayune workers who lost their jobs when the newspaper cut back to three days a week. She was elated to get the largest pledge of all from Mayfield, who offered a statement for a press release saying "I'm happy that NOJO and I can provide this donation."
But when the first check for $5,000 arrived, it was from the Library Foundation, which made Theim uneasy, she said.
"I consulted with a couple of the folks who were organizers with me on DashTHIRTYDash and we all felt this was not a good idea" because their organization was not in any way connected to the Library Foundation's mission, Theim said.
She called Mayfield in December 2012 to tell him DashTHIRTYDash was returning the donation.
He was "initially defensive that we were questioning if this was an appropriate use of Library Foundation money and then surprised that we were returning it," Theim said.
Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche said he was especially concerned about WWL-TV's discovery that the Library Foundation board granted Mayfield "sole and uncontrolled discretion" over various contracts and expenditures in June 2012. Foundation records indicate that the board members unanimously agreed to grant Mayfield those powers when they also changed the organization's articles of incorporation to expand its purpose beyond supporting just the city's public library system.
Gerald Duhon Jr., who served with Mayfield and Markham on the five-member Library Foundation board until early 2013, said he was never informed of any money going to DashTHIRTYDash. Theim said Mayfield tried to explain the source of the money away by saying he was using the Library Foundation only as a "pass-through."
"Essentially, he is the dictator, he is the emperor that makes any decision and doesn't require any type of board action," Goyeneche said. "Somewhere along the line, his perception of what that money was for is blurred and he's lost focus on it. And he considers it his money and he can spend it any way that he wants to."
WWL-TV interviewed Markham for the story Tuesday, and he defended the Library Foundation spending on NOJO's Jazz Market project as an important library-related service for the community. The station has repeatedly sought comment from Mayfield and did so again Wednesday, but instead received a statement from a foundation board member who defended the spending but was not involved when it happened.