NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — It was a full day of court on Wednesday, November 3 as two men appeared before a judge in federal court, hoping to receive probation for a scheme that stole more than $1 million from a New Orleans charity.
The defendants were 44-year-old Irvin Mayfield and 43-year-old Ronald Markham, two New Orleans men who were lifelong friends, business partners, and musicians. Their charges stem from their time spent as board members for the New Orleans Public Library Foundation, a fund designed to aid in operations at the New Orleans Public Library.
Court documents report that in 2002, Mayfield founded the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO), serving as its Artistic Director and a featured performer. Markham, a longtime friend of Mayfield, also worked for NOJO, serving as its President and CEO. Both were paid an annual salary of $100,000 alongside payment for performances and compositions through Mayfield Publishing Company.
Records show NOJO relied heavily on donations to fund its operations and pay its expenses. One major donor was the Edward Wisner Donation, a charitable trust administered by the City of New Orleans. However, NOJO was hit hard in 2011 when the city terminated funding for the grant, causing great financial hardship for the orchestra.
Meanwhile, the Mayfield and Markam were also heavily involved in the New Orleans community, particularly with the New Orleans Public Library Foundation. Established in 1990, the charity was founded to help purchase books and fund programs at the library. Payments are made through its investment account, and all transfers are made by its board of directors, a group of unpaid volunteers.
Mayfield joined the NOPLF board in 2006 and Markham followed in 2009 — both while maintaining their roles at the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Both even served terms as president, Mayfield serving from November 2010 and Markham replacing him in 2013.
However, this is when prosecutors say the two illegally directed more than $1.3 million from the foundation to fund the NOJO and other endeavors. The actions were reportedly made without approval while misleading others when asked about the transfers.
Additionally, court records indicate Mayfield and Markham sent false and misleading correspondence to account managers, auditors, and other board members to help make the transfers seem legitimate.
Uses of the money include:
- Using charity money to support NOJO operations and pay Mayfield and Markham’s salaries
- Transferring tens of thousands of dollars to Mayfield Productions and Mayfield’s personal account
- Funding NOJO’s performance at Carnegie Hall in 2012, including Mayfield’s performance fees
- Paying for travel expense for NOJO musicians, including Mayfield’s stays at the the Ritz Carlton and Park Central Hotel
- Buying a 24 karat gold-plated trumpet along
- Providing spending money at Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrah’s Casino
Additionally, after the two men received subpoenas in November 2013, they reportedly tried to cover their tracks by changing line items and dollar amounts, along with altering meeting minutes to convince board members that the transfers were authorized.
In December 2017, Mayfields and Markham were indicted on 19 federal charges, including fraud and corruption. A month later in January 2018, the two pleaded not guilty to the charges. Additionally, the two men were indicted on more charges stemming from the case in June. In November 2020, the two appeared in court again and pleaded guilty to the charges.
On November 3, Mayfield and Markham both appeared with their attorneys before Judge Jay Zainey in federal court, awaiting sentencing for the crime. The two were hoping to be sentenced to probation, saying they were paying restitution to cover the money lost.
The judge, however, ruled the fraud was committed based on greed and arrogance. On top of repaying the money, both men were sentenced to 18 months in prison, supervised release for 3 years, and 500 hours of community service.
FBI New Orleans Special Agent in Charge Douglas A. Williams, Jr. also commented on the trial, saying:
“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that individuals like Grammy Award-winning
musician Irvin Mayfield and his business partner Ronald Markham who steal from non-profit
organizations will be held accountable. Mr. Mayfield and Mr. Markham were driven by their own
personal greed, committing financial crimes to enrich themselves at the expense of the citizens of
New Orleans who utilize resources offered by New Orleans Public Library.”