Former Baltimore mayor gets 3 years in prison over children’s book scheme

A former Democratic mayor of Baltimore was sentenced to three years in prison on Thursday for a scheme involving children’s books.

Former Mayor Catherine Pugh used her influence on the board of a hospital to fraudulently make hundreds of thousands of dollars off a self-published book, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The disgraced mayor has since apologized for her actions and the “ringing negativity” they brought on Baltimore, a city that President Donald Trump has characterized as filthy and crime-ridden, according to One America News Network.

“I just want to apologize to the citizens, to young people, to partners, my friends — everyone I’ve offended, everyone I’ve hurt and the city’s image — by pleading guilty and being a part of all of this that had led me here today,” Pugh said, according to NBC News.

Three years behind bars

Fox News reports that Pugh rose to the mayoralty in the shadow of the Freddie Gray riots, sparked by the controversial death of a black man in police custody in 2015. She resigned in 2019 over an investigation into the book scheme, which involved double-selling or not delivering copies of a book series, “Healthy Holly,” that was “sloppily self-published” and concealed as a non-profit venture, according to the Baltimore Sun.

In reality, Pugh made nearly $1 million by selling the books in bulk under a no-bid contract with University of Maryland Medical System, where she sat on the board of directors, and she used that money to fund her political campaign and pay off a renovation on a new house, NBC reported. At her sentencing, U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow tore into the ex-mayor for repeatedly misleading and defrauding the public.

“I have yet frankly to hear any explanation that makes sense,” Chasanow said, according to the Baltimore Sun. “This was not a tiny mistake, lapse of judgment. This became a very large fraud. The nature and circumstances of this offense clearly I think are extremely, extremely serious.”

Pugh, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion and has until mid-April to report to prison, has been ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution to the University of Maryland Medical System and $12,000 to the Maryland Auto Fund, which also bought the books. She must also give up nearly $670,000, including her Ashburton home, and $17,800 in campaign funds.

All copies of “Healthy Holly,” seized in government raids, will be destroyed.

Taking responsibility

In a video released Wednesday, Pugh apologized and took “total responsibility” for the crimes, NBC reported. But while remorseful, Pugh also sounded defiant and equivocal at the courthouse, saying that it was never her intention to hurt anyone and that she will not fade out of the public eye just yet. “This is not the last you’ll see of Catherine Pugh,” she told reporters.

Pugh served on Baltimore’s city council and in the Maryland state legislature before becoming mayor. But the judge and prosecutors in her case made it clear that they were not impressed by letters and testimonials that she canvassed about her public service — including from the late Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings (D), whose comments from her inauguration were in a video she shared — noting that it was precisely her public credibility that she exploited to defraud the people of Baltimore, Fox News reported.

“I disagree that the length of the sentence has no impact on others out there who might be thinking about using or abusing their positions of trust,” Chasanow concluded, according to the Baltimore Sun.

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