NEW ORLEANS — A federal grand jury has indicted Grammy-winning jazz musician who helped the Crescent City revive after Hurricane Katrina.
The 19 counts against trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and his longtime partner, Ronald Markham, that were released Thursday include one count of conspiracy, four counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy, 11 counts of money laundering and one count of obstruction of justice.
Mayfield is accused of using his position as head of a charity that supported New Orleans Public Library to funnel money to a jazz orchestra he founded, to a nonprofit bank account that he controlled and to pay for his personal expenses. The criminal charges come about 2½ years after a WWL-TV began a series exposing the behavior.
Thursday's indictment alleges that Mayfield and Markham began a conspiracy in August 2011 by transmitting money from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation to accounts they controlled at the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra that helped pay their salaries, Mayfield's production company and travel expenses that included high-end hotel stays in New York.
► August 2015: Grammy-winning trumpeter resigns post amid donations probe
► May 2015: Mayfield's Jazz Orchestra agrees to give back money
Mayfield is accused of using $15,000 to buy a gold-plated trumpet, being paid $66,000 which in turn went to shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, gambling at Harrah's Casino and a fee to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall. Tens of thousands more were alleged to have paid the jazz orchestra's operating expenses.
"To purposefully and intentionally bring this 10 days before Christmas, ... it was kind of mean-spirited," said Claude Kelly, Mayfield's court-appointed public defender.
Mayfield played a gold- and jewel-encrusted trumpet for presidents and foreign dignitaries, appeared in We're Jazzed You're Here advertisements for the city and served on many nonprofit boards. The special trumpet was stored under armed guard and named the Elysian trumpet after Mayfield's father was found drowned on Elysian Fields Avenue in the flood.
Mayfield rose to prominence locally in the late 1990s, and former Mayor Ray Nagin appointed him as the city’s cultural ambassador and chairman of the public library board. In 2008, Mayfield took over as president of the library’s nonprofit support foundation.
At the time, the New Orleans Public Library Foundation existed solely to receive donations and give financial support for the city’s historically underfinanced public libraries.
By 2012, Mayfield had convinced the organization's five-member board to expand the nonprofit’s mission to provide more general community support and to give himself sole discretion over its finances.
Even before the board took official action to expand the library foundation’s mission, the foundation started sending large amounts of money to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, another nonprofit that Mayfield established and directed. The orchestra also paid Mayfield a six-figure salary and tens of thousands more each year to Mayfield’s private production company.
From 2011 to 2014, the library foundation tapped into donations meant for the city’s libraries and gave the orchestra more than $1.1 million in grants to help it build a new community center, music venue and bar in Central City called the New Orleans Jazz Market. Mayfield justified the grants, which exceeded the foundation’s payments to the entire city library system, by claiming the Jazz Market would serve as a specialized music library branch.
Markham, who also received a six-figure salary from the jazz orchestra, was on the library foundation board and voted to give his partner control over the financial decisions.
► September 2013: Song premiere: Brass-A-Holics' 'Alien Love Factory'
► March 2013: A free blast of New Orleans music at French Quarter Fest
"I do not believe that I have violated any law," Mayfield said in a statement issued July 5 2016.
The federal investigation began in 2013. As the investigation intensified this year, Mayfield tried to sell the large Fontainebleau neighborhood home where he often held extravagant parties.
It initially listed for more than $700,000. He sold it Oct. 31 for $553,333, barely more than he paid for it in 2012.
Follow David Hammer on Twitter: @davidhammerWWL