By Ken Daley | WVUE | November 3, 2021
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – Grammy-winning trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and his business partner Ronald Markham each was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison Wednesday (Nov. 3), nearly a year after they pleaded guilty to a scheme that defrauded the New Orleans Public Library Foundation of $1.3 million.
U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey also ordered the pair to repay $1.123 million in restitution, teach 500 hours of student music lessons and to serve three years of supervised release once their prison terms are completed. They were given until Jan. 5 to report to prison.
The sentence culminates a remarkable fall from grace for Mayfield, 43, who once was the city’s ambassador for cultural and entertainment tourism promotion and a prominent, beloved figure in its post-Hurricane Katrina recovery.
Zainey said he considered putting Mayfield behind bars for two years, but opted for a shorter sentence with the provision that the musician start working and paying restitution within 60 days of his prison release.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Mayfield and his pianist/collaborator Markham used their positions as president or board members of the foundation to divert more than $1.3 million in funds intended for the city’s public libraries into their own projects and pockets through the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra that Mayfield founded in 2002.
About $1 million of funds meant to buy books and support library personnel and programming was steered toward the $10 million construction cost of the New Orleans Jazz Market, the venue on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard that served as NOJO’s Central City base, prosecutors said.
Other pilfered funds were used by the pair to operate and travel with their jazz orchestra, supplement their six-figure salaries and to support a lavish lifestyle that included luxurious hotel suites, Saks Fifth Avenue shopping sprees and a new trumpet for Mayfield plated in 24-carat gold, the court document said.
The childhood friends ran the grift between August 2011 and January 2013, according to a federal grand jury’s December 2017 indictment.
With his reputation in tatters following the indictment, Mayfield’s performance opportunities began to dry up. The Royal Sonesta hotel in the French Quarter ended Mayfield’s seven-year residency in July 2019 and removed his name from its Bourbon Street music venue that had been called Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse.
Mayfield pleaded poverty in court and was assigned federal public defender Claude Kelly as his legal counsel. Mayfield and Markham maintained their innocence for nearly three years while under indictment, until they negotiated a plea agreement in July 2020. Mayfield and Markham pleaded guilty together last Nov. 10 to a single count each of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.
Each faced a maximum federal prison sentence of five years. But under terms of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop 23 other counts brought against the defendants.
Mayfield and Markham still argued for leniency at Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, objecting to some elements of the pre-sentencing report prepared for Zainey’s review.
“His sin was ego,” Kelly told the judge, “not greed.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dall Kammer implored the judge to impose the maximum five-year sentence, which he called “reasonable,” given the defendants’ conduct and victim.
“It would serve as an example of white-collar criminals not getting a slap on the wrist, instead getting jail time they deserve,” Kammer said.
After former NOPD superintendent Eddie Compass spoke on Mayfield’s behalf and victim impact letters were read to advise the judge on the damage the defendants’ conduct inflicted on the library system, Mayfield addressed the court.
“This is quite emotional,” Mayfield said. “My hope today is that my family, friends, community and city can accept my apology. … Being taken away from my family would be the worst punishment of all.”
Zainey replied from the bench, “Why weren’t you thinking of this when you were violating the law? … The very libraries that helped you get your start are the ones you ripped off.
“You let people down. I’m happy you recognize that.”