Jazz great Irvin Mayfield and his sidekick Ronald Markham are in a heap of trouble, but they, or at least their attorneys, are not cowed.
They have come out swinging against state Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, who has just added to their tale of woe by digging even more deeply into the lavish lifestyle they allegedly sustained through embezzlement.
It may be true that offense is the best defense, but surely Mayfield's attorney, public defender Claude Kelley, and Markham's, Sara Johnson, are wasting their time chastising Purpera. He can't put Mayfield and Markham in prison, but federal prosecutors will try to do so, doubtless for a long time, if the trial goes ahead on schedule in April.
Mayfield and Markham have been indicted on 23 counts of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction, after allegedly diverting money they controlled as members of the city's Library Foundation Board to their New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Maybe Purpera just provided grounds for additional counts.
If Purpera is the wrong target, the complaint against him also seems wide of the mark. Defense attorneys' beef is that Purpera is in cahoots with the feds, and is, in fact, no more than their “biased, coercive tool.”
But feeding dope to prosecutors is clearly part of the auditor's job. In his cover letter, Purpera added the standard line that his report had been handed to the U.S. Attorney and the District attorney “as required by law.” Anyone with knowledge of a crime is obliged to report it; failure to do so constitutes the crime of misprision.
The state constitution requires the Legislative Auditor to bird-dog the “fiscal records of the state, its agencies and subdivisions.” Anyone who misappropriates public money is fair game.
That must entail cooperation with prosecutors.
Indeed, prosecutors routinely rely on outside help to build cases. On this occasion, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, the media and Purpera all conducted investigations that must have made the feds' job easier.
Now, in a letter, the defense attorneys “demand that the Louisiana Legislative Auditor put down its gun, take off its badge and return to its original noble purpose of providing meaningful and transparent services to the people of Louisiana.”
That makes state auditors sound a bit like Gary Cooper in "High Noon," surely a first. The public will not agree that Purpera is out of line, being more inclined to appreciate his “meaningful and transparent services” in tracing the various misappropriations alleged against Markham and Mayfield.
The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, which paid Mayfield and Markham six-figure salaries while they flitted between fancy hotels, is a nonprofit partly dependent on government grants. Since Mayfield and Markham made no attempt to separate NOJO's private and public funds, the Legislative Auditor was obliged to investigate its whole operation or, as defense attorneys have it, “play junior detective for the federal government.”
Last December, a federal grand jury alleged that Mayfield and Markham had grabbed $1.4 million donated for the benefit of the New Orleans public libraries, and then came up with another $140,000 for a superseding indictment.
Purpera's new report tells the same old story of shameless self-indulgence on money intended for charitable or civic purposes, but with a different cast of victims. Now it is alleged that Markham and Mayfield razooed money the city gave NOJO to pay for sculptures in Armstrong Park. And when the state handed NOJO more than $1 million toward the cost of its Jazz Market, Markham and Mayfield helped themselves to most of it for “unauthorized” purposes.
The defense attorneys also complain that Purpera is resisting subpoenas for copies of documents he has provided to help the feds prepare their case. It is impossible for their clients to respond to the allegations, the attorneys write.
Since prosecutors are obliged to turn any exculpatory material over to the feds, Mayfield and Markham presumably won't have any due-process complaints by the time of the trial. Still, it is hard to see how justice is served by being less than open with two men who have every reason to sing a worried song while a year and a half passes between indictment and trial.
Email James Gill at Gill1047@bellsouth.net.