By David Hammer | WWL-TV | November 3, 2021


NEW ORLEANS — Grammy-winning New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and his business partner Ronald Markham were each sentenced to 18 months in federal prison Wednesday, a year after admitting that they diverted over $1.3 million in New Orleans Public Library donations to their New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, to pad their salaries and for luxuries for Mayfield, including 5-star hotel stays, limos, high-end liquor and a $15,000 gold-plated trumpet.

Mayfield and Markham were also ordered to give 500 hours of free music lessons to children. They will each have three years of supervised release as well, following their release from prison.

There is also $1.1 million in restitution they must pay at $500 a month starting in the next 60 days to the New Orleans Public Library Foundation.

Both men will have to surrender to prison by January 5, 2022.

“I feel you deserve more than 5 years for what you did,” said Judge Jay Zainey, who added that he wanted him to be able to use his talent to help children sooner than that time frame. “There’s no benefit to society of you going to jail any longer. You have been an honorable, admirable member of this community.”

“To my city, community, friends, I hope you can accept my apology,” said a choked up Mayfield. “I take full responsibility.”

When pressed further by Zainey, Mayfield said he did both “a terrible job and a criminal act.”

Earlier during Wednesday’s day-long sentencing hearing, Mayfield and Markham argued that they spent a lot of the transferred money on Jazz Orchestra expenses, on their employees and on building the New Orleans Jazz Market in Central City, but Zainey quickly struck down that argument.

“These men ripped off the library foundation of $1.3 million,” he said, saying that emails, which were first uncovered by WWL-TV more than five years ago, showed Markham declining to make the library support charity’s usual donation to the city’s library system by claiming the foundation didn’t have the money, even while they were using the money to support their six-figure salaries at the jazz orchestra.

Zainey agonized throughout the day about how much time in prison would be fair and appropriate, pointing out that he would be criticized either way. He said he started at five years, the maximum allowed for what they pled guilty to, and went down to two before settling on 18 months.

Federal sentencing guidelines for the offense level in the case (26) call for as much as 76 months, but judges have wide latitude to depart downward from the guidelines.

A victim impact statement by former Library Foundation executive director Barbara Waiters detailed how the conduct of the defendants led to the loss in fundraising and the eventual termination of two employees at the library charity.

There were 34 letters sent to the judge in support of Mayfield, including from prominent musicians Wynton Marsalis, Kermit Ruffins and Cyril Neville. Former New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass also spoke in open court, saying he was “devastated” by what his friend did, but he praised his care for his autistic brother.

“Does one mistake define a life of love and life of service?” he asked.

Mayfield’s attorney, Claude Kelly, made a final attempt at mitigating a sentence by attacking WWL-TV Investigative Reporter David Hammer, saying that Hammer had been “obsessed” with the case and had stirred up emotions by doing dozens of stories exposing the fraud, starting in 2015.

Kelly argued for no jail time at all, trying to convince Judge Zainey that his client had already suffered.

“The punishment began with the first Hammer article. He can regain some after today, but the scars are permanent,” he said.

But Zainey shot down Kelly’s comments, saying: “Everybody else is to blame for what Mr. Mayfield did. The man stole $1.3 million from a wonderful foundation! Say what you want to say… Mr. Hammer did not cause the conduct that occurred.”

Kelly also blasted attorney Bill Hines and Audubon Nature Institute leader Ron Forman, two former members of the nonprofit Jazz Orchestra board, for letting Mayfield and Markham do what they did. He cast them as White power brokers who weren’t punished while two Black men were being sentenced for crimes.

Zainey told Kelly that Hines, Forman and the other board members weren’t to blame. “They trusted your client and he ripped them off!” the judge said.

At one point Zainey interrupted Kelly and addressed Mayfield, saying he wasn’t holding his attorney’s statements against him.

The hearing broke for lunch at noon and resumed in the afternoon with Markham addressing the court to also express remorse.

“I damaged and I hurt very good people, businesses and communities and I’m willing and ready to invest my energy to the immediate work of restoring what I’ve damaged,” he said.

Zainey appeared no more moved than he was with Mayfield earlier.

“I have no sympathy toward Mr. Markham,” he said. “He stole $1.3 million from the Library Foundation.”

After WWL-TV found documents in 2016 proving Mayfield had spent Library Foundation money on lavish trips, limousines, high-end booze, and a 24 karat gold-plated trumpet, Mayfield resigned from the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and issued a brief apology.

In 2017, he and Markham were indicted, accused of enriching themselves with the library donations, including Saks 5th Avenue shopping sprees and fees to play shows at Carnegie Hall, and trying to cover it up with false statements and lies.

Federal prosecutor Dall Kammer said the $39,000 fee they paid to get a Carnegie Hall show was an example of how Mayfield and Markham used the library donations to enrich themselves.

“In my day, it was, ‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You practice, practice, practice.’ But they stole it and then paid for it!” Kammer said.

The orchestra agreed to pay back the Library Foundation $96,000 a year and play benefit concerts, and Zainey said they had paid back about $200,000.

That leaves $1.1 million in restitution still owed by Mayfield and Markham. Even if Mayfield and Markham each pay $500 a month, it would take more than 90 years to pay it all back.