By James Gill | Nola.com | August 7, 2019
If a federal grand jury has your financial dealings under investigation, and a state auditor comes knocking on the door, it might be a good idea not to open it.
Jazz superstar Irvin Mayfield and his friend and fellow musician Ronald Markham sure wish they had hidden behind the sofa when Brent McDougall from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office took a sudden interest in their books. The papers at the time were full of stories about their alleged defalcations and they were indicted near the end of 2017, not long after McDougall conducted a lengthy investigation.
Trials never start on schedule, of course, and this one has just been pushed back again, this time until January. U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey granted a continuance to make time for a hearing on a defense motion to suppress any evidence gathered in the course of McDougall’s interviews.
Mayfield and Markham complain that they were tricked into co-operating with McDougall, who told them he had no idea why his office was interested in the finances of their New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and the huge sums they were able to transfer to it as board members of the New Orleans Public Library Foundation.
Mayfield and Markham allegedly took money donated to promote literacy and the intellectual life of poor old New Orleans and use it for their own ends, paying bills in five-star New York hotels, for instance, and replenishing the coffers of the orchestra that paid them six-figure salaries.
Mayfield and Markham allege that McDougall was in cahoots all along with the feds. Had they known that, they would have given him the cold shoulder, they claim.
Evidently, they fear being confronted in court with what they told McDougall — there would be no need for a motion to quash if they had not incriminated themselves — so it does appear that they figured they could blab to the state legislative auditor without getting in dutch with federal prosecutors.
That was not very bright. Had McDougall been operating entirely independently, nothing he unearthed would have been kept from the feds or anyone else; legislative auditor reports are all public record under state law. Still, if McDougall was, as the defense alleges, effectively acting as an agent of the federal government, Mayfield and Markham may have been entitled to a heads-up.
Zainey concluded that the right to a fair trial trumps the right to be speedy one, so he will take the time to establish whether McDougall’s investigation gave prosecutors an unfair, surreptitious advantage.
McDougall gathered more solid evidence than would have possible for FBI agents because he secretly recorded the interviews. FBI policy is to rely on agents’ notes and memory.
Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera at first demurred when Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, wrote to request an investigation into what appeared to be fishy goings-on at NOJO. Purpera noted that his office is responsible for bird-dogging public funds, whereas Public Library Foundation donations are private.
However, the foundation supplements the tax revenues that keep the libraries running, while NOJO has received more than $2 million in state and city grants toward the costs of building a sculpture garden in City Park and its Jazz Market. When Goyeneche repeated his request for an investigation, Purpera agreed and McDougall was duly unleashed. Defense counsel, in the motion to quash, continues to maintain that McDougall had no jurisdiction.
Regardless, if Mayfield and Markham did not know the feds were in the background, they should still have been very wary of a government auditor. Unless they believed they had broken no laws, it was crazy to open up.
It is hard to see how they could doubt an indictment was in the offing, but evidently they did, and proceeded to assist with cooking their own goose.
But if Mayfield and Markham regret opening up to McDougall, the feds may regret a failure to come clean that could weaken their hand in court if Zainey suppresses the evidence. If Zainey were to disallow the fruits of McDougall’s interrogation, Mayfield and Markham would still have plenty of explaining to do, however.
Mayfield is such a huge success that his NOJO salary was only ever part of his income. Shoot, he could probably have afforded to pay for his own golden trumpet without snaffling Library Foundation money.