New Orleans trumpeter awaits conviction for charity fraud

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Irvin Mayfield, the jazz trumpeter who has become a symbol of New Orleans’ resilience after Hurricane Katrina, was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday for embezzling charity funds intended to public libraries for personal use.

Mayfield’s music and business partner, pianist Ronald Markham, also awaited his conviction in federal court on Wednesday.

Both pleaded guilty last November to a single charge of conspiracy to commit fraud. Prosecutors alleged they embezzled more than $ 1.3 million from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation, largely through the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, founded by Mayfield.

Mayfield, cleared to speak before being sentenced, apologized to the library foundation, its donors and the New Orleans community. He recognized the library as a place where he was able to listen to jazz records for the first time as a child. This resulted in one of many interruptions from U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey, who was due to announce a sentence on Wednesday afternoon.

“The very library that got you started… you got ripped off,” Zainey said. At one point, Zainey told Mayfield to turn around and address the courtroom, where Mayfield supporters and supporters of the library system were seated. “I hope you will accept my apologies. I accept 100% responsibility, ”Mayfield told the audience.

Lawyers for the foundation, not to mention the type of sentence Mayfield and Markham should receive, said the damage caused exceeded $ 1.3 million. The scandal, they said, also seriously damaged the foundation’s reputation and its fundraising capacity.

Mayfield’s supporters included former New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass. Compass urged Mayfield not to serve jail time so he can continue caring for his disabled mother and an older brother with autism. “He always fixes his brother’s food like he did when he was little,” Compass said.

Defense attorney Claude Kelley said nothing would be gained by sending Mayfield to jail for a non-violent crime. He highlighted Mayfield’s mentorship for young musicians and other musician-led community development efforts and said Mayfield had “an incredible ability to really do things right”.

“Book One,” an album by Mayfield and the Jazz Orchestra, won a Grammy in 2010. But the library founding scandal led to his resignation as artistic director of the orchestra in 2016, while the he scrutiny of his role in the library has increased following investigative reports from WWL-TV.

Mayfield was among the musicians who played a leading role in promoting New Orleans after dike failures and catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Mayfield’s father died in flood waters .

Mayfield was also a founding member of the Afro-Caribbean jazz ensemble Los Hombres Calientes.

Prosecutors said in addition to the running expenses and orchestra salaries for Mayfield and Markham, the library foundation money went to Mayfield’s personal bank accounts and for the purchase of a gold plated trumpet.

Prior to his indictment and guilty plea, Mayfield presented big plans for the city’s libraries in an interview with AP in 2008.

“A library is democracy within four walls, freedom of information,” he said at the time. “Jazz is the democracy we mean.”

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