New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Wednesday. The Grammy-winning jazz musician was convicted of diverting over $1.3 million from the New Orleans Public Library toward his personal use.
Mayfield—along with his partner, pianist Ronald Markham who was also sentenced to 18 months—funneled funds earmarked for the Public Library through his own New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, using it to pay for limo rides, top-shelf liquor, and a $15,000 gold-plated trumpet. Both men pleaded guilty last November to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. They have until January 5th, 2022 to surrender to prison.
The two men were ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution at a rate of $500 per month. Divided between the two of them, it will take each man—both aged 43—over 90 years to pay back to the total. Additionally, they must provide 500 hours of free music lessons to children.
Ahead of his sentencing, Mayfield spoke to his supporters as well as those of the Library who were present in the courtroom. The musician, who won a Grammy with his Jazz Orchestra for 2010’s Book One, said that the New Orleans Public Library was the first place he was able to listen to jazz music. This prompted an interruption from Judge Jay Zainey, the first of several in the sentencing hearing.
“The very library that got you your start … you ripped off,” Zainey said.
In an unusual twist for a criminal case, both the defense and the prosecution argued that sending Mayfield to prison would be a waste of his time and talent. Judge Zainey agreed, however with the caveat that Mayfield deserves “more than five years for what he did,” five years being the maximum allowable by law. Instead of tacking on additional prison time, Mayfield will be required to share his gift with the children of New Orleans, free of charge, upon release, at which point he will also be under three years of supervised probation.
Thirty-four letters were sent to Zainey in support of Mayfield, including from prominent musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Kermit Ruffins, and Cyril Neville. Former New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass even came out in defense of Mayfield, noting, “This is only the second time in 42 years that I have ever stood before a court and asked for leniency for someone.”
Though the tally is quoted at $1.3 million, representatives for the New Orleans Public Library state that the damage went well beyond that figure. They contend that the library’s image and ability to fundraise were damaged by the scandal, which was first uncovered by WWL-TV in 2016 and resulted in Mayfield’s resignation as artistic director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra that same year.
“To my city, community, friends, I hope you can accept my apology,” Mayfield said at the hearing. “I take 100% responsibility.”