The recent federal indictment of Grammy Award-winning New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and his longtime friend and artistic collaborator Ronald Markham reads like a mobsters' playbook for how to loot a nonprofit — except for the part about not getting caught.
Mayfield and Markham aren't charged with racketeering, but the 19 counts against them include just about everything else the feds typically throw at crooked politicians and mafiosi — a 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.
The two men led the nonprofit New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO), which Mayfield founded in 2002, to national prominence. They also enjoyed six-figure salaries from NOJO.
The feds allege that when NOJO began to run short of cash in 2011, the two men found a prodigious new source of revenue in the nonprofit New Orleans Public Library Foundation (NOPLF), whose board Mayfield began chairing in late 2010. Markham also served on the library foundation board and, coincidentally, succeeded Mayfield as chair. Both men also controlled the NOJO board — and therein lay their road to perdition.
According to the indictment, Mayfield convinced the library foundation's board of directors to expand the foundation's mission to include purposes that suited Mayfield and Markham's plans quite nicely — and to give board chair Mayfield virtually unchecked spending authority. The feds claim Mayfield and Markham used that authority to divert more than $1.3 million to NOJO, and much of it thence into their own pockets.
Mayfield in particular used the library foundation's loot to live the high life, according to the indictment. The alleged plundering included:
• Buying Mayfield a 24-karat gold-plated trumpet;
• Paying for both men's NOJO salaries;
• Diverting money into Mayfield's personal bank accounts;
• Paying Mayfield's private production company;
• Paying for NOJO's performance at Carnegie Hall;
• Paying for Mayfield's stays at the Ritz Carlton and Park Central Hotel, the latter to the tune of more than $18,000;
• Covering Mayfield's purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrah's Casino; and
• Paying for some general operating expenses of NOJO.
In addition to looting the library foundation — whose mission initially was to raise donations for the city's then-cash-strapped libraries — the feds say Mayfield and Markham tried to cover their tracks in 2013 by altering the minutes of the foundation's board meetings.
Mayfield and Markham face from five to 20 years in jail if convicted on the various counts, plus fines of $250,000 for each count.
The federal investigation began under then-U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite, who earned praise for his vigorous prosecutions of street crime in conjunction with local law enforcement. Some mistakenly have criticized Polite for not pursuing public corruption with equal vigor. The case against Mayfield and Markham is a testament to the feds' ongoing pursuit of public corruption cases since Hurricane Katrina.
If the two men are convicted of even one count each, it also will be an ignominious end to a pair of careers whose trajectories once seemed limitless.