State Roundup, November 21, 2019

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PUGH SOLD PHANTOM BOOKS, INDICTMENT SAYS: In a “scheme to defraud purchasers of Healthy Holly books,” Pugh sold more than 130,000 copies from her self-published children’s series to businesses and nonprofit groups that were mostly unaware she didn’t intend to produce that many, report Meredith Cohn and Kevin Rector in the Sun. Pugh took in close to $800,000 beginning in 2011, using the money for her political campaigns and to buy a bigger house, among other things, according to a grand jury indictment made public Wednesday.

  • Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters picks out five interesting facts about the indictments against Catherine Pugh, including that she was paid for Healthy Holly books that were never printed and that she claimed that the bulk of a trust fund’s donation to Associated Black Charities was meant to purchase Healthy Holly books, which the trust denies.
  • The newly unsealed federal indictment pieces together some answers to lingering questions people have grappled with since the Democrat resigned from office in May amid questions over her business dealings. Sun staffers list six things they learned from the indictment including that Pugh “vastly” under reported her income and that the Baltimore City schools did not use the books after looking at them citing “various grammatical and spelling errors.”
  • For the last decade, Pugh did big business selling company executives and nonprofit directors her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books, report Kevin Rector and Talia Richman in the Sun, but according to federal prosecutors, the massive book sales were really a racket — built on a ruse that saw Pugh increase her profits. Pugh “intentionally double-sold Healthy Holly books.”All told, prosecutors said Pugh sold at least 125,000 copies of her books, but printed fewer than 65,000.

PUGH USED ‘HOLLY BUCKS’ FOR HOMES: Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh used money from her “Healthy Holly” book deals — for which she faces federal fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy charges — to help purchase one of her homes and pay down a home equity line of credit on another, according to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday, reports Colin Campbell in the Sun.

WHERE DOES UMMS STAND NOW? The federal indictment of former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh leaves questions about where the University of Maryland Medical System, the primary buyer of her Healthy Holly children’s books, stands as it continues to deal with the fallout of a wide-ranging self-dealing scandal, Tim Curtis reports for the Daily Record. The indictment also details how other nonprofits in the city became involved in Pugh’s scheme to turn children’s books into campaign contributions.

CHARGES AGAINST AIDE SET PUGH PROBE IN MOTION: Adam Bednar of the Daily Record writes about what set the Pugh probe into full swing: Gary Brown Jr. was preparing his space in the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis on Jan. 9, 2017, ahead of what he expected to be his first day as a member of the House of Delegates. A former legislative aide to Mayor Catherine Pugh when she served in the state Senate, Brown was slated to be sworn into office the next day before the start of the General Assembly session. But it was not to be. Brown had been charged with six campaign finance violations stemming from his role in Pugh’s mayoral campaign the year before.

TIMELINES: Jason Whong of the Daily Record offers up a timeline of the Pugh investigation and ultimately the charges.

POLS REACT: WMAR-TV compiles reaction from politician throughout the state including House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Gov. Larry Hogan.

HOGAN RESPONDS TO SUN EDITORIALS: In a letter to the Baltimore Sun, Gov. Larry Hogan responded to the repeated lashings from the paper. “For months, The Baltimore Sun editorial board has relentlessly criticized my administration’s agenda — even going so far as to suggest that we hold up a critical infrastructure project for the region until we spend more money on Baltimore. This completely ignores the fact that we are already providing historically high funding for Baltimore across the board.” Hogan sites schools, building projects and transportation, among other funding he has budgeted.

MO CO, PG REJECT STATE STUDY ON I-270 TOLL LANES: Planning leaders from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties refused Wednesday to sign off on a study of how to add toll lanes to the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270, saying the state has not addressed their concerns about the plan’s finances, potential environmental impacts and lack of significant transit options, Katherine Shaver of the Post reports.

BIKE/WALK LANE SOUGHT ON NICE BRIDGE REPLACEMENT: With the Maryland Transportation Authority board poised to vote on a replacement for the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge on Thursday, the state’s U.S. senators are encouraging the panel to include a separate bike and pedestrian lane on the new span, reports Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters. In a letter to Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn on Wednesday, Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin said a “protected bike/pedestrian path” would boost “additional recreational tourism in Charles County for generations.”

AUDIT FAULTS OFFICE OVER GRANTS: An audit faulted the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention for not having clear guidelines for awarding crime grants and not always following up to ensure the money was spent properly, reports Pamela Wood in the Sun. The office annually awards tens of millions of dollars in grants to local law enforcement agencies but does not have “a comprehensive methodology” for selecting grant winners, according to the state audit released Tuesday. The state Office of Legislative Audits wrote that not all grants were competitively awarded.

LARGE TOBACCO BUST: Comptroller Peter Franchot on Wednesday announced the agency’s largest tobacco bust ever, resulting in over $450,000 worth of seized contraband tobacco products, Eric Myers of Capital News Service writes. The raid, which took place on Nov. 5, recovered 521 packs of untaxed cigarettes, 1,246 untaxed premium cigars and 7,866 packages of untaxed loose and hookah tobacco products. Combined, those products represent a tax loss of over $286,000 for the state.

  • The storage units were packed “floor to ceiling” with untaxed tobacco products, said Jeffrey A. Kelly, chief of the comptroller’s Field Enforcement Division. Pamela Wood of the Sun reports that Kelly said his team believes the tobacco products were smuggled into Maryland from Pennsylvania, and if they had been taxed properly, the state would have taken in $286,000. Comptroller Peter Franchot said the smuggling and illicit sales were coordinated by “a vast organized crime ring of bad actors.”

2 TAPPED FOR WICOMICO JUDGESHIPS: Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday appointed Abigail Marsh, executive director of a legal services center, and longtime prosecutor David Martz to district court judgeships in Wicomico County, Steve Lash of the Daily Record reports.

A WHOPPING 32 CANDIDATES SEEK CUMMINGS’ SEAT: The lure of an open congressional seat has attracted 32 candidates for a special primary election in the 7th Congressional District left vacant by the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings last month, reports Jeff Barker in the Sun. Twenty-four Democrats and eight Republicans filed with the State Board of Elections before its deadline of Wednesday at 5 p.m.The primary is scheduled for Feb. 4 with a general election on April 28 to fill the rest of Cummings’ term.

  • Jenna Portnoy and Erin Cox of the Post write about some of those 32 candidates who are hoping to take Cummings’ seat, noting that Kweisi Mfume has the backing of veteran political consultant Larry Gibson, a longtime friend of Cummings. The late congressman’s grown daughters — stepdaughters to his widow — lined up behind another candidate, Harry Spikes, who worked in Cummings’s congressional office for 15 years. Spikes, his widow Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and Mfume all eulogized Cummings at his Oct. 25 funeral.

CUMMINGS OFFICE IN LIMBO: Five weeks after U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings’ death, his former office is in a kind of limbo necessitated by federal law and House rules, writes Jeff Barker in the Sun. When a member dies, resigns or is expelled, the office must be supervised by the Clerk of the House and the staff can’t cast votes on the district’s behalf or advocate for their former boss’s policy positions.

5G ANTENNA DEBATE IN MO CO: A proposed bill to allow 5G antennas in residential neighborhoods has reignited a debate over the safety of the emerging technology, Kate Master of Bethesda Beat writes. At issue is a revised zoning amendment to allow the towers in residential zones as long they replace existing street lights or utility poles.