January 15, 2018

Irvin Mayfield, Ronald Markham Charged in NOPL Fund Mismanagement

Irvin Mayfield
Photo credit: Derek Bridges via Wikimedia Commons

Irvin Mayfield, a jazz trumpet virtuoso and at one time a leading figure in the city’s library community before being dogged by scandal, pleaded not guilty in federal court on January 4 to charges listed in a 19-count indictment that alleged he used $1.4 million of New Orleans Public Library (NOPL) money for personal gain. Acting U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced the indictments in December 2017, and also appeared in court to represent the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Mayfield’s longtime friend Ronald Markham, a jazz pianist and a codefendant in the case, was indicted on 18 identical charges, with the exception of one count of mail fraud. Markham, who also pleaded not guilty to all counts, was represented in federal court by attorney Sara Johnson.

The two appeared before Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans. Knowles ordered the two released on $25,000 unsecured appearance bail, meaning the defendants have made a written promise to appear at future court dates or post a monetary bond.

Mayfield is accused of an elaborate scheme in which he allegedly misappropriated about $1.4 million raised for NOPL through its chief fundraising arm to cover operating costs for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) “without approval” and to “unlawfully enrich” himself, according to federal prosecutors.

A Grammy Award–winning musician who rose to fame and civic prominence in New Orleans, particularly during the years following Hurricane Katrina, Mayfield is charged with 11 counts of money laundering, one count of conspiracy, four counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy, one count of mail fraud, and one count of obstruction of justice. Mayfield did not make any statement during the court hearing, nor did he address reporters later that day.

Also on January 4, Claude Kelly, a public defender appointed by Knowles to represent Mayfield, filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against his client based on alleged leaks by the U.S. Prosecutor’s Office to a New Orleans reporter, David Hammer, who first unearthed some of the accusations leveled against Mayfield in 2015. When asked to elaborate, Kelly said, “The motion speaks for itself.”

A trial date of March 12 was set.

ALLEGATIONS OF MONEY MISUSE

The indictments, announced on December 14 following an investigation by the FBI and the New Orleans Inspector General’s Office, cover crimes that allegedly occurred between August 2011 and January 2013. An investigative report in May 2015 by local WWL-TV in New Orleans and Hammer revealed that from 2012 to 2013 Mayfield and Markham directed $863,000 in NOPL Foundation money to NOJO, funds that were reportedly used to help complete the New Orleans Jazz Market venue, a project of the jazz organization.

Mayfield founded NOJO in 2002 at the age of 25, and he and Markham went on to earn $100,000 annual salaries for various administrative duties. They relied on grants from a charitable trust to cover a wide range of expenses, but that relationship was severed in 2011, prosecutors noted in a news release.

In 2006, Mayfield was appointed to the NOPL Foundation board by then–New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. He was appointed board chairman in 2010; Markham had become a foundation trustee about a year before that. After Mayfield stepped down as chairman in 2013, Markham assumed that role.

Meanwhile, Mayfield was turning his jazz orchestra into a prominent fixture of the city’s storied music scene. NOJO’s mission was to play jazz and promote it around New Orleans. It gained nationwide stature in the years following 2006 as Mayfield’s 16-piece group—led by his trumpet playing—recorded and toured extensively. A 2009 CD won a Grammy. NOJO also didn’t lack for ambition. Constructing a jazz concert hall in the city—the New Orleans Jazz Market—was a key part of its stated mission.

According to a statement from the prosecutor’s office, Mayfield and NOJO’s fortunes took a hit that coincided with the end of Nagin’s tenure as mayor. Nagin, one of Mayfield’s key patrons, himself suffered a much-publicized fall from grace. The mayor that America came to know during the disaster of Katrina was convicted of bribery and fraud in 2014 and is now serving a ten-year federal jail sentence.

“Between December 2008 and May 2010,” the prosecutor’s statement read, “NOJO relied heavily on grants from the Edward Wisner Donation, a charitable trust administered by the City of New Orleans, to pay its operating costs and expenses. In February 2011, support for NOJO through the Edward Wisner Donation was terminated by the City of New Orleans, causing great financial distress to NOJO and its ability to pay expenses. Mayfield and Markham then began a search for new sources of funding.”

That search, prosecutors allege, led Mayfield and Markham to dip into a ready source of cash: funds raised by the NOPL Foundation. That organization handles private and corporate gifts earmarked to bolster NOPL’s operating expenses and pay for other special library programs and projects.

“Between August 2011 and January 2013, Mayfield and Markham caused approximately $1,382,971 to be transferred from the NOPLF investment account to unlawfully enrich themselves, pay the operating costs of NOJO without approval, and while misleading NOPLF and others with regard to the purpose of the transfers.”

Prosecutors listed the various ways Mayfield and Markham allegedly used that $1.4 million:

  • Purchase a 24k gold-plated trumpet for Mayfield;
  • Fund Mayfield and Markham’s NOJO salaries;
  • Make payments into Mayfield’s personal bank accounts;
  • Make payments to Mayfield Productions;
  • Fund NOJO’s performance at Carnegie Hall;
  • Pay for stays at the Ritz Carlton and Park Central Hotel;
  • Fund expenditures made by Mayfield at Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrah’s Casino, and
  • Pay for the general operating expenses of NOJO.

Mayfield resigned from the foundation board at the end of April 2015, and Markham followed suit that May. Bob Brown, former managing director of the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, replaced Markham as foundation president.

Kelly declined to address “any of the facts” surrounding the case during a telephone interview with Library Journal on January 8. He said the normal discovery process with prosecutors has “just started” and it was entirely possible the trial’s start would be delayed due to normal judicial procedures.

Charles Brown, NOPL’s executive director and city librarian, said he was not expecting the wide “range” of accusations leveled by federal prosecutors. “On a personal level, I was surprised by the scope of the indictment,” he told LJ in a recent phone interview. “Nineteen indictments, to my way of thinking, it’s pretty extensive.”

Brown added, “I think some of the lavish personal spending was well-known and had been documented.”

Asked if NOPL’s image within the city had been damaged by the negative media coverage of Mayfield’s case, Brown said, “I’m concerned because there is confusion. I don’t think most people can differentiate between the library board, the foundation board, [and] the Friends of the Library board. And I think that’s my concern.”

He added, “I think the library is still a very respected institution.”

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