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State audit: Trumpeter’s lavish trips may have broken law

October 1, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A new state audit says a New Orleans trumpeter and his longtime business and musical partner spent nearly $180,000 on trips and entertainment over seven years, and may have broken state laws by using public money on themselves.

News outlets reported that the audit of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor adds details to earlier allegations against Irvin Mayfield and pianist Ronald Markham, who face federal trial in April on charges alleging they diverted $1.4 million raised for the New Orleans Public Library system to the jazz group and themselves.

According to the audit, Mayfield spent more than $28,000 on a one-week stay at the Ritz-Carlton in New York, including nearly $2,700 per night for the room. The U.S. General Services Administration allows $295 a night, the audit noted.

“The LLA report is reckless, unsupported and contrary to known facts,” said a statement from Claude Kelly, the federal public defender representing Mayfield, and Sara A. Johnson, Markham’s attorney. “The timing is convenient — released as Mr. Mayfield and Mr. Markham attempt to defend themselves against federal charges.”

They have pleaded not guilty: Mayfield to 23 counts including fraud and money laundering, and Markham to 22. Most of the federal charges involve their years on the New Orleans Public Library Foundation’s board and as its president, a position each held. Some involve a nonprofit created to help “disenfranchised youth.”

The audit report also said the jazz orchestra used a $302,000 grant from New Orleans to pay operating expenses rather than its intended use: paying artists to create a cultural sculpture garden in Louis Armstrong Park.

Auditors found that little of the nearly $2.4 million in public funds and donations the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra collected to build the New Orleans Jazz Market actually went toward its construction. Such “unauthorized expenses” included about $885,000 of $1.1 million in state money, according to the audit.

It said a number of grants and donations apparently were used at the last minute to keep the jazz orchestra going.

It noted that the group’s bank accounts were $436 in the red on Oct. 31, 2012, shortly after the New York trip. The following day, the group got a $100,000 wire transfer from the library foundation, and part of that went to the orchestra’s payroll bank account, Nola.com / The Times-Picayune reported .

In a response included in the audit, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra said steps taken to correct the spending problems include establishing a compensation committee to review salaries, new travel spending policies, and separate accounts for any public money received by the group.

Mayfield, who founded the jazz group in 2002, resigned from its board in May 2015, after WWL-TV described allegations that he had used library money on his own nonprofit. Markham has also stepped down.

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